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Darwin’s Nightmare

Darwin's Nightmare

In the face of Darwin’s Nightmare everything else seems pointless and insufficient. And I’m not just talking about movies. Walking past the throbbing lines to get into Broken Flowers at the Angelika on Monday night, I trekked down to the IFC Center and joined a much smaller (though not insubstantial, thankfully) crowd to see Hubert Sauper’s insightful and horrific documentary, an experience both edifying (putting into visual practice all the globalization terrors we’ve read about or tenuously made connections about in our heads) and withering. In contemporary Tanzania, villages surrounding Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, are in dire, profound poverty and sickness, a reality made terribly ironic through an intricate yet so bald-faced humanly obvious web of natural and capitalist manipulations: the genetically engineered Nile Perch was introduced into the lake years ago, it proceeded to devour all the other species in the lake, leaving it a severely declining dead body of water; the humungous Nile Perch, caught by local fisherman and cleaned and filleted in Tanzanian factories, are then taken away to Europe by Russian pilots flying in every day to collect what is “rightfully theirs,” an expensive food that the locals cannot afford.

Sauper then proceeds to outline, deliberately and with a subtle mounting sense of dread, unimpeded by any sort of voiceover, the fallout in almost every aspect of this pitiful exchange of goods: of course, the area is riddled with AIDS and prostitution…and when Sauper discovers what just might be in those cargo planes when they ARRIVE in Africa before loading up with fish, the whole thing might just make your jaw drop.

This week in the New York times, a big deal was made out of the odd occurrence and possible ecological repercussions of the discovery of the Snakehead fishes in Queens…horrible beasts indingenous to parts of Asia, mysteriously spawning on these shores, possibly dumped here through live food trade, which devour everything in their path and even breathe air and crawl on land. A further irony here: there’s no possibility of there being a substantial economic catastrophe as the result of this aberration. Yet the headlines are there. I can’t recall reading anywhere at all about the Nile Perch tragedies going on half a world away. Hubert Sauper is doing his best to correct this oversight. Don’t miss it.

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