Arts and Entertainment
Fri/18-Thurs/24, Lumiere Theatre and Shattuck Cinemas
SANDY BEACHES, palm trees, sunshine, and surf: Jamaica has all of these things in abundance, but as Stephanie Black's powerful new documentary explains, there is far more to Jamaica than what the tourists see. Life and Debt offers a straightforward, brutally honest look at how the superpowerful International Monetary Fund and World Bank have trapped Jamaica in a cycle of poverty and economic ruin that seems endless and insurmountable. Right up-front, Black acknowledges our preconceived notions of the balmy island nation, weaving poetic narration taken from Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place with aerial footage seemingly snatched from one of those "Come to Jamaica" commercials and shots of smug white vacationers settling into their resort hotels. But the voice-over turns dark, quickly, as the film's constant reggae beat pauses: "That no new hospitals have been built in Jamaica for many years now should not concern you. You are on your holiday."
Black sets up the background by crosscutting between two talking heads: Michael Manley, the former prime minister of Jamaica, who speaks with a mixture of eloquence and barely repressed fury about his country's downward spiral since it gained independence from England in the early 1960s and, shortly thereafter, turned to the IMF for a "short-term" loan; and the flinty, self-amused Stanley Fischer, the deputy director of the IMF. Manley explains that the country needed time to build its economy and to finance essential needs such as wheat and medicine, but the IMF insisted that "long-term development is your problem." The consequences of those initial meetings are still evident, thanks to a complicated tangle of lending, interest, taxes, and tariffs all of which seem to end up benefiting the powers that control globalization (to a large extent, the United States) and severely damaging the developing countries most in need of financial assistance. Black illustrates Jamaica's current struggles by focusing on several different aspects of its economy, including onion farmers who can't sell their crops on their own turf because imported American goods are cheaper ("It's an insult to our dignity," one man rightfully points out); dairy farmers who've been so hurt by the "new world order of trade" that the influx of imported powdered milk has brought about the ruin of the local industry; and workers, mostly women, who toil in Jamaica's garment district, a "free zone" that is not only filled with factories that traffic in unfair labor practices but also considered a separate entity from Jamaica proper, and therefore allowed tax breaks and other sketchy benefits. You don't have to be a protester from the WTO trenches to be engaged and enraged by Life and Debt, a beautifully made film that starts with the broad, complicated subject of globalization and creates a fascinating document that's equal parts political and poignant. Life and Debt is a wake-up call that everyone should experience. Life and Debt screens as part of a benefit for Global Exchange, followed by a panel discussion, Wed/16, 7 p.m., Lumiere Theatre, California at Polk, S.F. $10-$20. Black in person Fri/18, 5 (discussion) and 7:10 p.m. (introduction) shows, Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck, Berk.; 7:10 (discussion) and 9:30 p.m. (introduction and discussion) shows, Lumiere. Life and Debt benefit concert for Global Exchange, featuring Jamaican artists Mutabaruka and Yami Bolo, Fri/18, StudioZ, 314 11th St., S.F. $18-$20. See Movie Clock for show times. For information on the benefits call (415) 255-7296. (Cheryl Eddy)