In his new documentary “The End of Poverty,” filmmaker Philippe Diaz examines the root causes of global poverty and challenges the effectiveness our current economic system. The film opens in New York on November 13 and in Los Angeles on November 25. indieWIRE contacted Diaz via email to discuss the film and his career.
Please introduce yourself.
I started as a director and became a producer very early on, ending up producing more than 25 feature films. Most of these films were tackling world issues or had a socio-political background. Having majored in political philosophy and philosophy of art, I believe that movies can make a difference. I created a mini-studio based in Los Angeles: Cinema Libre Studio, which specialized in producing and distributing socio-political films.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
I think that movies can help make the world a better place by educating people and telling the truth in a way that mass media can’t. The success of some of the movies I produced, distributed or directed reinforced such belief.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
The way I learned filmmaking is by working on sets in every capacity. I was cameraman, DP, editor, assistant director, etc. Producing and directing are for me the most fulfilling work that one can do. I am always interested to explore new style and new ways to reach people.
Please discuss how the idea for “The End of Poverty” came about and evolved?
A board member of the Robert Shalkenbach foundation contacted us with the idea of making a film on the true causes of poverty. After 6 months of research I became specifically interested in going back to the creation of modern times (1492) which marks the beginning of “organized poverty.” By going back that far we can understand that poverty didn’t happen by accident or because women in poor countries have too many children — the kind of stupid ideas we hear way too often — but because of deliberate policies implemanted by the powers of the North.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
The main goal was to raise awareness on the true causes and consequences of poverty: for us — in the Northern countries — to maintain our comfortable lifestyles, they — in the Southern countries — have to be maintained below the poverty line. Worse, if as an expert says in the film we are consuming 30% more than what the planet can regenerate, and because the world population increases every year, we have to plunge more people below the poverty line. This is a phenomenon more serious than global warming and as global warming it is man made. I read hundreds of books on the subject but my main influence was to see poor people on the ground, to understand their struggle and to feel that we are totally responsible for their suffering.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution?
The biggest challenge was to shoot poor people in their everyday life. Shooting people who live without the basic necessities and with less than one dollar a day. Another one was to explain a very complex issue in less than two hours when we came back with 100 hours of footage. Having our own distribution structure, this wasn’t really an issue but getting people to listen to what we have to say will definitely be one when the mass media are perpetrating the convenient lies we have heard for dozens of years.
How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?
The film was financed by the foundation and our company Cinema Libre Studio.
Who/what are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
I have the greatest admiration for the films and directors — or any other artists — who try to make a difference in the world.
What is your next project?
It is a feature film about Karl Marx that I see as a direct follow-up to “The End of Poverty?” Marx’s ideas have been totally manipulated for centuries and it’s time to give him back the place he deserves while showing where he was wrong at the same time. He is the man who said more than hundred years ago that capitalism isn’t a sustainable system on the long run. He predicted the economic crisis we are in.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Don’t compromise, go to the end of your ideas. Compromising will get you nowhere.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
I received many awards as producer and director but the most important ones is when it changes things on the ground or when ordinary people are affected by what I do. This film was selected in more than 25 international festivals, but after one of the screenings at the Bahamas Film Festival a man in the audience got up to thank me. He was crying and could barely talk explaining that he came from poverty and that his parents still had no running water.