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VALLETTA 2018

Review: Welcome to Sodom

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- Austrian directors Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes document life at the world’s largest e-waste dump in Ghana through powerful imagery and the voices of the people who live there

Review: Welcome to Sodom

A chameleon moves slowly, the camera glued to its skin, while a declamatory voice announces that as God’s messenger on Earth, it has no choice but to denounce the actions of human beings: how could they turn earth into such a hellhole? What this chameleon (inspired by Zulu legend) is looking at is the world's largest e-waste landfill, Agbogbloshie dump, not far from the centre of Ghana's capital, Accra. It is one of the most toxic places on Earth, despite 6,000 people working and living there, a place whose origin can be directly traced back to the West. Developed countries often get rid of their electronic waste by shipping it out of the country, which is how it ends up accumulating in this part of the world.

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Perhaps it was due to Western guilt or a desire to denounce certain actions, that Austrian directors Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes chose to make the documentary Welcome to Sodom [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, which world premiered in competition at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen, before competing in the documentary section at the 4th Valletta Festival.

In order to avoid establishing any clear boundaries, the two directors maintain a careful and respectful distance from their subjects at all times, letting inhabitants and workers guide us through this particular enclave. The first person we meet is a man who compares the landfill to the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We then cross paths with (without ever seeing them talking directly to the camera) a businessman, a resigned widow and a rapper who all live at the dump (it’s actually a rap performed by the latter that gives the film its title).

However, after meeting various individuals, the film chooses to focus on two particularly touching stories about identification and sexual preference on a continent that is violently dominated by heteronormativity: that of a boy born into the body of a girl who is forced to hide himself away while collecting rubbish and selling parts (only boys and men are allowed to do so) and that of a young man whom society has marginalised because he is Jewish and gay, and who has no choice but to live at the dump after serving a prison sentence.

The directors’ relationship with the reality they show is expressed with powerful imagery. Despite the narration sometimes becoming a little morose and disjointed, the film perfectly conveys the intensity of the place, its inhabitants and the vitality that persists in spite of everything, which the viewer really gets a sense of during the film’s joyful musical moments. The film features one particular recurring scene: the incineration of waste in order to recover copper and sell it, an image that only serves to emphasise the film’s references to hell. And yet, it is precisely this activity that gives meaning to this "hellhole." To quote the businessman, "when things break in Europe they get thrown away, while here, we make money from them. The more waste we receive, the more successful my business becomes."

Welcome to Sodom was produced by the Austrian company Blackbox. The film’s international sales are being handled by the Canadian company Syndicado.

(Translated from Spanish)

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