Hot Docs: On “Enjoy Poverty”

renzoBefore Hot Docs came to an end last week, I was able to squeeze in one final film about global issues.  This one featured a Dutch artist travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo and trying to convince impoverished people that they should, as the name of the film suggests, Enjoy Poverty.  Martens’ main point is that we are profiting from others’ (in this case, Congolese) poverty and that those in poverty should try to reclaim ownership over it and start to exploit it as a natural resource.

The controversial film has been reviewed all over the internet, but I thought I’d share my thoughts as well.  As you watch this movie, there are moments when you cringe at the upfront and sometimes exploitative way the director, Renzo Martens, interacts with the film’s subjects.  But after watching several films in a row, Marten’s style is also refreshingly different from the other docs dealing with development issues in this year’s festival.

He interacts with each of the subjects as a human first and a victim of structural violence second.  In my last post, I talked about how each of the three films I saw before this one focused on some international hero, rather than a particular cause itself.  In doing so, the people that the heroes were trying to help tended to come across as objects, rather than active subjects in the film’s plot line.   In Enjoy Poverty, Martens films himself in a purposefully narcisitic way, which somehow made his interactions with people less glossy, and certainly less heroic.  In the question and answer period after the show, he explained that he wanted to be in the film himself, as an exploiter, because to try and remain neutral in telling this story is to deny the role of the West in creating poverty.

Obviously, not every person should be as exploitative as Martens, but I think his vision and his voice is VERY important because it challenges the “solution” as well as bringing attention to the problem of extreme poverty.  During the debate after the screening, one development worker piped up, “You’ve done a very good job of highlighting the problems of poverty and the NGOs working in the Congo, but very little to offer constructive solutions.”

Martens didn’t hesitate: “No, I think I was very clear about the solution.  We have to be willing to pay a fair price for what we’re getting from places like the Congo.”  Plain and simple.

If you haven’t already, watch this movie.

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3 Responses to “Hot Docs: On “Enjoy Poverty””

  1. paul at 12:51 pm #

    i was there for this movie and i’ve been talking about it ever since.
    i think his other solution to poverty was for the rich to realize just how priveledged they are and that unless we start connecting the dots between consumerism, war, aid, media, and development we’re living in a dream world.
    development ‘aid’ is shown as marketing of change for the rich, rather than supporting actual change for the poor.
    the rich are very comfortable enjoying other people’s poverty and rather than accept this butual reality, some of us prefer to ignore it or create elaborate defence mechanisms for feeling better about it.


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