Life and Debt

"Excellent"

Life and Debt Review


Jamaica is a hot vacation spot. The exchange rate encourages delusions of wealth (approximately 30 Jamaican dollars to one American), the sea is a brilliant blue, the air is warm but lacks humidity. And as tourism is unfortunately Jamaica's biggest trade, foreigners enter and leave with a sense of relaxation.

Life and Debt takes a brassy look at life inside this impoverished country. While normal documentaries take the Sally Struthers approach of underlying scenes of starving children with tearful music, this film guides the viewer with a sarcastic voiceover that brings the troubles home without begging tears to the surface.

The voiceover is written by acclaimed author Jamaica Kincaid. It guides the audience along a tourist's journey and the story of the native inhabitants. Instead of telling you what you are already seeing on screen, it quips, "You don't see what happens after you flush the toilet." This engages a viewer to see and think about devastation instead of merely being told it is there. This strong, sparse storytelling approach runs throughout the film.

Stephanie Black is also intelligent in how she chooses to disclose the problems faced by the locals. This isn't just another talking head show of people moaning about their horrible lot in life. People are interviewed from all sectors of occupation, from field to factory, as well as social theorists and the banking organizations that continue to invest in the country. The variety of discussion perpetuates a compelling internal dialogue with any viewer, whether they are seeing Jamaica for the first time or not.

Of course, as can be expected, the United States is slammed, owing to its involvement with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Officials look moronic as they explain why their plans for Jamaica's economy will help the country back on its feet, but only if they are willing to follow the advice word for word.

The next moment we see why and how each of these initiatives has failed, usually due to imports being cheaper than local labor or whether or not the soil is appropriate for the next agricultural trend the U.S. is forcing on the citizens. Admittedly, some of the back and forth between the business-minded organizations and the failures they produce gets repetitive, but it also drives home the impact ignorance can have on both sides of an international argument.

But Jamaica isn't against the United States, and this documentary does not accuse the U.S. of being the sole perpetrator of its grief. If anything, it begs for a better understanding of the nature of Jamaican society before stepping in to change it based on foreign regulations.



Life and Debt

Facts and Figures

Run time: 80 mins

In Theaters: Friday 28th February 2003

Distributed by: Tuff Gong Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 38 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Stephanie Black

Also starring:

Contactmusic


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