Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Payback", documentary based on Atwood's book: conscience money isn't enough


The 2012 film by Jennifer Baichwal, “Payback:  Some Debts Can’t Be Paid with Money” is based on the book my Margaret Atwood, “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth” (2008, House of Anansi). Margaret Atwood often speaks, and she sounds a bit like Elizabeht Warren.

There’s a great quote, late in the film, that could set the tone for the whole message: “Forgiveness is a link between the past and the future; it isn’t about restoration of the past prior to injury.”

In economic terms, the movie relates debt to slavery.  There is a tendency to encourage workers to become indebted so they have to continue to work for free or for low wages.  One could look at the “company towns” operated by coal companies in the past as following this model. The film spends a lot of time on the organizing of migrant farm workers in the tomato fields around Immokalee, FL  (the sugar cane and poultry industries could have provided similar material).

One speaker notes that capitalism developed in a time when human activity seemed small in comparison to the natural resources of the planet. Now, with climate change and issues like “peak oil”, human activity is on a scale that approximates nature.  Capitalism can no longer assume that it operates in a universe of essentially unlimited potential.

At a moral level, then, people have to be concerned about the idea that their own individual prosperity could depend unhealthfully upon the unseen sacrifices of others.  “Payback” could not easily come just from conscience money.  It requires direct sharing of labor and personal attention. It could slide into Maoism.
The film goes into the subject o blood feuds, and interviews members of Albanian families involved in an incident dramatized in the film “The Forgiveness of Blood” (reviewed here March 10, 2012).

Debt has always been associated with personal psychological shame.  What constructive purpose does this personal aspect serve?

The film was produced in Canada (DGC), and much of it is in French, Spanish and Albanian as well as English (with subtitles).  Zeitgesit is the distributor. The official site is here.


The music score (composer not identified) is often brooding, and reminds one of "Samsara" (Saturday, Sept. 22), as does some of the photographic imagery.

The film is available on instant replay on Netflix. 

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