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The Dispossessed: The realities of exploitation by the global agriculture industry


- World-premiering in Ji.hlava’s A Testimony on Nature section, the 182-minute Swiss-Canadian documentary keeps its viewers on the edge of their seats right up until the last minute

The Dispossessed: The realities of exploitation by the global agriculture industry

A documentary essay with the intensity of a thriller, the Swiss-Canadian film The Dispossessed [+see also:
film profile
 by Canadian director Mathieu Roy, which world-premiered in the A Testimony on Nature programme section of the Ji.hlava IDFF, opens with a series of static long takes of African field workers picking up produce, chopping branches and working the fields. Most of them work in farming and food production for their entire lives – mothers work with infants tied to their backs, while toddlers help their fathers to work the field – but at the same time, they belong to one of the most starving populations in the world, because their countries export the majority of the food they produce. It is not a new phenomenon – in colonial India, a journalist explains, the land that used to be used for growing food has switched to growing cotton, which was what the British industry demanded, even if it meant starvation and a sharp rise in mortality rates for the local population. One of the questions that The Dispossessed asks is: how are the people and the governments of the exploited countries persuaded to comply? 

The shots of field workers and the interviews with both the representatives of food conglomerates and the supporters of sustainable development across the globe feature no commentary in The Dispossessed, and that’s because no commentary is needed. The sheer contrast between the shots of African or Indian farmers and the interview with a PR representative from the World Trade Agency – comfortably ensconced in his office at the Geneva headquarters, which is adorned with neoclassical statues and fountains, explaining how trade works and how agriculture is a controversial topic anywhere – is absurd enough to feel almost blunt. 

Somewhat reminiscent in its approach of the 2014 documentary Concerning Violence [+see also:
film profile
 by Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson or We Come as Friends [+see also:
film profile
 by Austrian-French helmer Hubert SauperThe Dispossessed is a perfect answer to anyone who has ever asked themselves why the “developing” countries remain “developing” for decades or even centuries, despite the “help” they are getting from the West; it is an introduction to the political economy, especially inasmuch as it concerns the global agricultural industry, which exploits people, animals and nature itself for profit, and benefits only a select few, or only the most privileged part of the world. It explains how what used to be called slavery is now called “the rules of trade” or “global economic politics”, but how it does not imply a significant improvement in terms of the lives of the exploited people, despite the change of name. With its 182-minute running time, The Dispossessed was one of this edition’s longest-running films. Despite this, it is astonishing how its unrelenting commitment to revealing the realities of exploitation within the global agriculture industry seems to keep its viewers on the edge of their seats right up until the last minute.

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