By Omiko Awa
IN continuation of their monthly collaborative film screening project, the Goethe-Institut and iREP Documentary film forum recently presented The Big Sellout, a political documentary to an audience that cuts across different professions.
The screening was supported as usual by the Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC, which provided its screening hall at its Lagos office in Ikoyi.
Directed by Florian Opitz and produced by Felix Blum and Ame Ludwig, the film shows the damage irresponsible privatization of public utilities has caused in the lives of people across the globe.
The Big Sellout tells the tragic, tragicomic but also encouraging stories of everyday life of people, who daily have to deal with the effects of the obnoxious policy dictated by different international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The scriptwriter and director, Florian Opitz, examines the effects of the big sellout— privatization— of basic public services such as water supply, electricity, public transportation and even public health care in South America, Asia, Africa as well as Europe and the US.
Opitz discovers that the promises made by these organisations are nothing, but mere phrases among the people whom governments in the different countries have said it would benefit.
SEGMENTED into different episodes according each country’s problems, the film shows Opitz talk with the architects of the new economic world order—privatization— as well as ordinary people in the streets, who have to deal with the politics of the former.
He tells the story of a South African activist who helps poor families in Soweto, who are disconnected from electricity by the to-be privatised electricity supplier ESKOM, because they cannot afford to pay the high electricity bills anymore reconnect their lines. Hunted by the Police and the company's security, he and his team of ‘guerilla’ electricians that illegally reconnect these families back are always confronting the authorities whenever they meet.
Another episode is about a Philippine woman living in Metro-Manila, a slum area, with her family. For years, she has been struggling to get money for the dialysis her son needs, twice a week, to survive; and if she doesn't succeed her son will die.
Next in line is the protagonist, the humorous British train driver and union activist. Having started his career in the most efficient railway system in Europe, some years back, he finds out that his company, which has been doing well, has as a result of privatization been fragmented and run down. To salvage the situation, he takes to advocacy and fighting for his colleagues, who have been facing more pressure from their private employers over the years. The pressure mounted on the railway workers cause many some psychological problems, thus leading to numerous deadly accidents in the country.
The last episode talks about the fight of the Bolivian citizens of Cochabamba against a US corporation that wants to take over the country’s municipal water supply. The attempted-takeover leads to the people confronting government and the said company, in which tens of thousands of the citizens fought against the Bolivian police and military.
Though the film showcases the tragic failures of privatisation across the globe, it however, highlights that there is hope if only the people unite and stand up against a seemingly all-powerful enemy or policy. It shows how such unity of purpose brings succour and makes governments of the various countries in focus to either alleviate the desperate situations or change the policy.
In the documentary, Joseph Stiglitz, one of the world's best known economists and Nobel Prize winner for economics makes viewers understand where the dogma of privatisation came from, who profits from it and what societies stand to lose if followed without caution.
With different storylines carefully intertwined in a thrilling and compelling episodic structure, The Big Sellout calls countries across the globe to have a second look at policies from international and multi-national organisations before embarking on them.
OPENING the floor for the audience to comment on the film in line with happening across the world, the people noted that education, advocacy and being resolute to a cause, mostly against negative policies, is key to the development of a nation. The people, in one voice, stated that most of the policies from these international organisations are not always for the poor majority in the different countries where they are implemented because the elite class do high jack them and called for the formation of close knitted groups that would see the development and progress of their different communities.
Commending Goethe-Institut Nigeria, members of the audience called for the film to be taken round the country and show in public places, including secondary and tertiary institutions.