This case study of globalization’s effects on Jamaica is a timely, never dull piece of agitprop that comes off as a cross between Godard’s social protest docs and “The Harder They Come.” Filmaker Stephanie Black (“H-2 Worker”) intercuts interviews with Caribbean and IMF leaders, plus ordinary Jamaican farmers, workers, and businessmen, with footage ranging from holidayers having fun in the sun to riots in Kingston’s streets. Set against the backdrop of Jamaica’s paradise lost and the beat of reggae and calypso music by Bob and Ziggy Marley, Harry Belafonte, et al., this is an always lively critique of free trade’s New World Order and its impact on developing countries. Feature-length docu has slowly been making the rounds of alternative-friendly specialized houses for several months and has a natural continuing future on PBS, cable channels and video.
“Life and Debt” serves as a free trade/WTO/IMF/World Bank primer and history lesson, albeit from a clearly critical perspective. Interviewees include former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley and Intl. Monetary Fund deputy director Stanley Fischer as well as factory and plantation proletarians, but brisk docu offers much more than talking heads.
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Well-structured film puts forward examples of the specific consequences and real-world injustices of free trade: banana farmers toil amid a U.S. vs. European Union trade dispute (while Belafonte belts out “Day-O”); foreign-subsidized, imported powdered milk decimates Jamaica’s dairy industry; McDonald’s outcompetes local beef growers, and so on.
Recurring Rastafarian and tourist sequences, plus narration based on Jamaica Kincaid’s book “A Small Place” and bouncing reggae soundtrack, tie docu together neatly.
Film shatters stereotypes of Jamaica as vacation paradise and Jamaicans as ganja-toking, happy-go-lucky islanders. Socially committed docu is in Dziga Vertov tradition, and is long on criticism and short on solutions, advocating protectionism, self-reliance and slowing down the dizzying pace of the globalization whirlwind.