"Payback" is a rarefied conceptual docu that will appeal to a limited but highly appreciative audience.

Using universally held notions of debt to make intellectual and philosophical connections across the globe, some of them profound, “Payback” is a rarefied conceptual docu that will appeal to a limited but highly appreciative audience. Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s book “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth,” director Jennifer Baichwal’s handsome pic shuffles between the writer at the podium and at her keyboard while incorporating images of a tearfully guilty drug addict in prison, Florida tomato farm workers enduring abuse, the BP oil spill, and a Northern Albanian family confined to its property under an ancient code of revenge.

During the docu’s languorous pans across Atwood’s keyboard, one senses Baichwal’s implicit questioning of the benefits of writing — or filmmaking — against injustice. Still, by integrating the views of activist-writers from Raj Patel to Eric Schlosser, this poetic, intermittently haunting film ultimately argues for generosity and open-heartedness in the face of greed, exploitation and vengeance, a tack that helps to make its headier excursions more accessible. Images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are captured in horrifying detail by d.p. Nicholas de Pencier. Other tech credits are superb.

Payback

Docu - Canada

Production

A Zeitgeist Films release of a National Film Board of Canada presentation of a Mercury Films production. Produced by Ravida Din. Directed, written by Jennifer Baichwal.

Crew

Camera (color), Nicholas de Pencier; editor, Nick Hector; music, Martin Tielli, Gabriel Morley. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 27, 2012. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Margaret Atwood, Llesh Prenaga, Conrad Black, Paul Mohammed, Jon Esformes, Casi Callaway, Gregorio Venegas, Gjin Marku, Petrit Prenaga, Pashke Prenaga, Louise Arbour, Francis Dolan, Florence Barran, Karen Armstrong, Raj Patel, Eric Schlosser, Gerardo Reyes, William Rees, Rodney Lyons, Lucas Benitez. (English, Spanish, Albanian dialogue)

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