by giannabasso

Lifeless Life and Debt, a film by Stephanie Black, utilizes adapted excerpts from the non-fiction novel, A Small Place written by Jamaica Kincaid in the 1980s. The film is shot with a intermingling of traditional documentary style videography with a distinctive narrative structure. This passionate but choppy documentary focuses on the lives of Jamaicans and how the IMF, structural adjustment policies and free trade impacted life and culture on the island. Life and Debt focuses on how the International Monetary Fund has devastated Jamaica’s agricultural industry, but it also powerfully illustrates what globalization has been doing to underdeveloped countries around the world. Stephanie Black puts into context the differences between the Jamaica seen by tourists and the country inhabited by its oppressed people. When it comes to the content there is no doubt that Life and Debt is a powerful and moving film. But it becomes difficult and aggravating to watch as sloppy transitions are complimented by an illogical series of events. The movie begins with tourists coming off planes and then erratically jumping into interviews with local workers and it goes back and forth from black and white to colour and interviews to what seems like a tourism advertisement. Furthermore, the use of “You” puts the viewer in a demeaning position. One can’t help but feel that you, the viewer, are the problem. Right at the beginning of the film you feel like “You” are being attacked, “Since you are a tourist, the thought of what it might be like for someone who had to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly from drought and so has to watch carefully every drop of fresh water used… must never cross your mind.” The narrator makes one feel very naïve, ignorant and unaware of what has happened to those living in Jamaica. Black utilizes extensive interviews with the farmers that lost their businesses due to free trade and the workers that are making the Brooks Brothers shirts that Americans pay inflated prices for, it really hammers home the point of how Jamaica has been destroyed by Americans and Europeans. There are several issues that are brought up that are very complex and emotional and I don’t believe that these can be adequately explained or digested in one viewing. Further more the disorganized labyrinth of narration; filmed television screens, disconnected scenes and endless headshots do not make for a very solid or entertaining documentary.


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