‘Bitter Seeds’ probes suicides in India

[In his latest documentary film, Micha X. Peled traces not only the deleterious ecological effects of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds on India’s agriculture, but also the imposition of unprecedented debts foisted on millions of farmers in the forced march to buy Monsanto seeds–and the effects these debts have on traditional family dowry obligations, leading to high and constant levels of “honor” suicides among distraught farmers.  See also, below, an article on the horrifying levels of these suicides in India last year. — Frontlines ed.]


G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The release of “Bitter Seeds” completes an intriguing trilogy about globalization, some dozen years in the making.

San Francisco filmmaker Micha X. Peled got started in the late 1990s with an expose of Walmart‘s effect on local American communities in “Store Wars: When Walmart Comes to Town,” which was released in 2001. He then tackled cheap Chinese labor, following a teenage factory worker through her long hours, in “China Blue” (2007).

Krishna, a farmer in rural India in Micha X. Peled’s “Bitter Seeds.” Photo: SFIFF / SF

Now Peled has capped the trilogy by examining the rash of suicides among farmers in India, and how it’s tied to the international conglomerate Monsanto, in “Bitter Seeds,” which opens Friday.

“Thematically, they’re very nicely connected,” Peled said over lunch in San Francisco. “The first was about us – the American consumers. The second was about how the cheap goods that we buy get made, and the third is about the raw materials – the farmers who grow the cotton that gets exported to China’s factories to make the jeans that we buy.”

Peled found that in India, a farmer reportedly kills himself every 30 minutes because of a vicious circle, in which Monsanto has taken over the seed market with a genetically modified seed with hybrid technology that produces high yields but cannot renew itself. Thus farmers have to buy new seed for the next planting season, but can’t afford it, so they borrow from loan sharks. Confronted with mounting debt and family shame, many kill themselves.

Peled found a young woman, Manjusha, who dreams of being a journalist and whose father was a farmer who committed suicide. Peled gave her a camera and encouraged her to find her own story; he also follows her on her inquisitive journey.

They meet Krishna, a farmer whom Peled follows through an entire season. They help Peled flesh out a dimensional portrait of a rural farming family and the dynamics of their village.

“Keep in mind that these farmers have been growing cotton for centuries, and were always able to eke out a living,” Peled said. “That was with conventional seeds, which are suited to the region and don’t need much water, because there isn’t any.”

Peled believes globalization can be a force for good, but that there should be a balanced approach that respects local communities. (Incidentally, he supports California’s Proposition 37, which mandates labeling of genetically modified foods.) Continue reading

Dear Mandela — a film on the new generation of struggle and hope in South Africa

Theatrical Trailer — When their shantytowns are threatened with mass eviction, three ‘young lions’ of South Africa’s new generation rise from the shacks and take their government to the highest court in the land, putting the promises of democracy to the test.
DEAR MANDELA was awarded the ‘Best South African Documentary’ prize after its World Premiere at the Durban International Film Festival.  See http://www.dearmandela.com for more information


Thu, 2012-09-27

Dear Mandela

A film review by Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of “Dear Mandela”, a documentary now showing at the IndieScreen Theater in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn through tomorrow evening. After a decade or more of Hollywood movies like “Invictus” or “In My Country” that can best be described as public relations for the ANC, a fierce documentary directed by Dara Kell, a South African now living in the U.S., and Christopher Nizza, finally catches up with reality–a system of economic apartheid has replaced one based on race.

Just as the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 helped galvanize a movement against racial apartheid, the slaughter of 36 miners in Marikana creates the political context for a new freedom struggle based on class. To understand how South Africa has entered a new terrain of struggle, there is no better introduction than “Dear Mandela”, a film that focuses on the struggle against slum clearance in the name of “development” that took place in the outskirts of Durban. We meet three young activists of Abahlali baseMjondolo (Residents of the Shacks) who are committed to the rights of the poor to live in informal settlements. Despite the promise of President Nelson Mandela that every South African would have the right to a decent home, the new ANC pushed through legislation that would give the government the right to demolish the shacks that the poor were forced to live in. Each day “Red Ants”–work crews in red coveralls–come to the slums and raze their shacks to the ground and each day community members rebuild them. They had learned that ANC promises to build new homes were empty. Continue reading

India’s Cultural Negotiations: Shaping the Political Imagination

[India, Nepal–two very different Maoisms. Flames of the Snow, a Documentary on Maoism in Nepal, arrives in India.  At first, it is banned.  Then, negotiations.  Whether to denounce all Maoism, and ban the film–or to negotiate some changes in its presentation, becomes the question for the Indian state and the powers of public culture.-ed]

An Indian journalist’s documentary film on the Maoist uprising in Nepal has finally won its battle with the Indian censors after a panel, headed by veteran Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore, gave it the green light.

It was a moment of triumph for Anand Swaroop Verma, whose 125-minute documentary, Flames of the Snow, was approved for public screenings by the Revising Committee of India’s Central Board of Film Certification without being asked to delete any scenes.

Last month, citing the growing Maoist violence in India, the Board had declined to allow the film, saying “any justification or romanticisation of the ideology of extremism or of violence, coercion, intimidation in achieving its objectives would not be in the public interest, particularly keeping in view the recent Maoist violence in some parts of the country”.However, Verma, who is considered close to Nepal’s Maoist leadership, challenged the decision and the film was viewed in New Delhi last week by six members of the Board’s Revising Committee, including its chairman and veteran actor Sharmila Tagore. Continue reading