World Serious

Bad news gets a good airing in documentaries and features at U.N. Assn. Film Festival in Palo Alto
MONEY NEVER SLEEPS: The documentary 'Let's Make Money' offers a trenchant analysis of globalism.

SHOOTING the messenger is always fun, but be sure to save a bullet for yourself. The United Nations Association Film Festival, which runs Oct. 22–31 in Palo Alto, includes dozens of feature-length and short documentaries aiming to support the goals of the United Nations.

The festival has perhaps a bit of bad news to deliver. There may be one decade left until climate change becomes irreparable, and Michael Nash's Climate Refugees makes your quotidian horror movie look like rubber-masked slapstick. Nash, the director of Fuel (2007), shows how the costs of that change are adding up already. He interviews everyone from Stanford academics to the prime minister of Tuvalu and displaced flood victims in South Asia. Retired Vice-Admiral Dennis V. McGinn sums up the troubles:

"There aren't a lot of evil people in the world, just a lot of desperate people." We have refugees galore already, and desertification and coastal flooding in the near future may lead to some 30 million people heading our way and wondering what's for dinner.

Festival director Jasmina Bojic made a bleak joke at the festival's press conference about how the Halloween wrap-up date was perfect timing. It will be hard to top the terror of Let's Make Money. Like Climate Refugees, the documentary is a multicontinent survey.

This scarifying critique of globalism tries to show how a newly printed euro gets some dirt on it. Director Erwin Wagenhofer interviews a Lex Luthorish investment banker in Singapore: "I don't think an investor ought to be responsible for the ethics of the company he's invested in." A German industrialist surveys the matchless squalor of Chennai (formerly Madras) and decides that all the future holds for these Indians (and us) is a life of longer hours and shorter wages.

An open-pit mine in Ghana gives up its gold to Switzerland and gets 3 percent of the value back—and all of the mine tailings they can eat. In Burkina Faso, the world's fourth-poorest country, skeletal cotton pickers beg for an end to subsidies for American cotton.

The phantom of money enjoys a cheap holiday, sprawling on the disfigured Costa del Sol in Spain. There, international investors slapped up 800,000 fancified crapshacks a year until the bubble burst. We see the aftermath of a "cement tsunami" of empty condos, untenanted, each surrounding thirsty golf courses baking in the desert.

Turncoats against neoliberalism testify. Investor John Christensen visits his native Channel Island of Jersey, which has become a tax haven for invisible foreign cash-hogs. John Perkins (Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) delivers a chilling summation of American financial policies since Nixon. We conclude with Bundestag representative Hermann Scheer, who takes us on a tour of the Reichstag—a historically fraught location, you might say. The legislator forecasts the kind of barbarism to come if that high-flying, nest-fouling bird of capital doesn't get its wings clipped soon.

But maybe you would prefer a sea voyage to a time-share in a haunted Spanish condo? Hold your nose and welcome aboard the Probo Koala! The short documentary The Stinking Ship tells how a seagoing refinery, registered in Panama, tried to make a buck salvaging some Mexican fuel oil through a method called "caustic washing." The technique left behind a shipload full of toxic waste, which had to go somewhere—why not the capital city dump in Africa's Côte D'Ivoire?

Unfortunately, the locals figured it out. That country's cabinet resigned over the scandal. Trafigura, the shadowy multinational that owned the Probo Koala, had to pay out a bundle to stop these terrible allegations of death and illness. Eventually, Trafigura's solicitors forced the BBC to go on the air and sing a version of "I'm sorry" that would have made Brenda Lee snivel. Interviewees include a formerly pretty lady disfigured by the waste and David Leigh, investigative editor for the Guardian. UC-Berkeley's Bagassi Koura, with advisement from Lowell Bergman, directs.

Every town with a gas station and a 7-Eleven hosts a film festival; the UNAFF is one of the few festivals, among hundreds, that matter.

United Nations Association Film Festival

Oct. 22–31, Stanford and Palo Alto theaters

See for details.

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