A tough `Debt' to repay for Third World countries


March 15, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Stephanie Black's eye-opening documentary Life and Debt makes its Baltimore theatrical debut today at the Charles Theatre, after premiering in February at the Johns Hopkins Hospitals' film series, "The African Diaspora Part II." It puts any American who ever vacationed in Jamaica, or even dreamed of it, in the position of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II, who visited Batista's Cuba under the impression that he'd bought into a tropical paradise and instead found a political powder keg primed for explosion.

Black's movie offers a lucid explication of how such "developing countries" as Jamaica, desperate for stability, strike crippling loan agreements with the International Monetary Fund, resulting in long-term debt and a sort of indentured servitude to advanced economies. Along with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, the IMF dictates that Third World countries devalue their own currency (supposedly to attract foreign investors) and pull down protective tariffs. The international products that come tumbling into the marketplace swamp native industries.

The movie unrolls a roster of economic injustices: The Jamaican milk industry dries up due to imported powdered milk; native beef and poultry sales deteriorate because of cheap, enzyme-ridden stuff used in American fast food; such U.S. fruit giants as Dole and Chiquita challenge Jamaican bananas' exclusive sales to Britain and Europe; and Jamaican Free Zones provide unregulated areas where foreign businesses run sweat shops.

The filmmaking is merely serviceable, but the Jamaican culture gives Black's movie a unique incendiary swing. With an array of songs from Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Peter Tosh and others, Life and Debt reminds us that reggae is a raging music - and that its fires burn still.

Awards galore

Last week the Sundance Institute and the Producers Club of Maryland announced dual recipients of the 2002 Producers Club of Maryland Fellowship: a proposed stop-motion animation feature called $9.99, whose co-directors, Tatia Rosenthal and Etgar Keret, promise "less than ten bucks worth of insight into the human condition"; and a live-action project, Jake Kornbluth's The Best Thief in the World.

Kornbluth, who previously co-wrote and co-directed the movie version of his brother Josh's performance piece, Haiku Tunnel, said via e-mail that the Fellowship "is an oasis of support in an otherwise hostile environment for independent filmmakers like me."

Contrary to the Sundance press release, Josh is not involved in The Best Thief in the World except "as an incredibly supportive brother." But Josh, in a separate (but equal) e-mail, did offer a Baltimore-related highlight from the pair's appearance at Sundance for Haiku Tunnel. It was, of course, meeting John Waters. "I told him how when I was a kid, my dad brought me with him to see Pink Flamingos. Waters did a take, then said, mock-indignantly, `But that's child abuse.'"

`Drive' at Charles

Fans of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive respond to the way this American auteur navigates a whirlpool of delirium - literalists be damned! He taps directly into the anxiety beneath the surface of every memory-loss thriller or horror-film ever made.

But Lynch's identity-swapping phantasmagoria has arthouse roots in Ingmar Bergman's 1966 Persona, the tale of an actress (Liv Ullmann) gone mute and the nurse (Bibi Andersson) who grows increasingly obsessed with her. Andersson's erotic monologue remains a pinnacle of sex in the cinema; together, she and Ullmann achieve a psychological symbiosis that's both spooky and penetrating.

The movie screens at the Charles Theatre at noon tomorrow; admission is $5. For information call 410-727-FILM.

Inside `Submarine'

Considering that 2001 was a banner year for animation, there's no better time to remember Yellow Submarine, the movie that kept animation alive for movie-lovers in the late-'60s. WCBM radio personality and counterculture expert Dr. Robert R. Hieronimus has poured three decades of research, including a panoply of original interviews, into Inside the Yellow Submarine: The Making of the Beatles' Animated Classic (Krause Publications, 432 pages, $24.95). In its own scrapbook-y way, it tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the movie and didn't even know how to ask.

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