Photo courtesy of VIFF
DIR: Bettina Borgfeld & David Bernet | Garden in the Sea | Germany, Switzerland | 2011 | 84 mins | Guarani, Spanish, Portuguese & English w. English subtitles
In the fast-growing canon of anti-agribusiness cinema, Raising Resistance leaves a striking impression. Geronimo Arevalos is a traditional subsistence farmer in rural Paraguay whose small plot of land has come to be entirely surrounded by Brazilian-owned transgenic soybean fields. As tractors continually battle indigenous weeds with specially engineered herbicides, Geronimo and his neighbours find that their own food crops and water supplies have been caught in the crossfire.
With little education and no other options available, Geronimo's campesino (small farmer) community turns to peaceful protest in the soy fields. Legal debates and police presence form a tenuous mood as young and old stare down heavy equipment and squat in camps on the farmland.
On the other side we meet the Brazilian farmers, their lighter complexions, bigger bellies and flat, Portugese-accented Spanish giving them a disturbingly colonial air. Some, as expected, preach liberal economics from air-conditioned offices. Others we find in the same outdoor kitchens and tattered clothing as the campesinos. Having moved to a new country and invested their life savings in the equipment, chemicals and promises of genetically modified soy, they have no option but to grow it. In addition to having human obstacles, they find themselves struggling against nature as local plants adapt to resist the custom herbicides.
The star power in this film still clearly belongs to campesino Geronimo. His philosophical ramblings belie his limited education, and his grief for the land and his community is palpable. Generally barefoot and with his machete-toting wife and handsome children at his side, he channels his rage like a Paraguayan Gandhi.
In the spirit of Austrian masterpiece Our Daily Bread (2006), Raising Resistance directors Bettina Borgfeld and David Bernet do well to avoid narration and let powerful images tell the story. Factoids are concise and displayed in simple text over stunning shots of the local landscape. Talking heads are minimally used and charts and graphs are entirely absent.
But the power of this film does not lie in the facts or the numbers (indeed, its overall informational value is quite low). What Raising Resistance contributes to the battle against Big Ag is a collection of unforgettable images. The cinematography is nothing short of exquisite. Orange sunlight on blood red soil; sparse collections of jungle trees dotting meticulous, leafy soybean fields; Massey Ferguson tractors bumbling over the horizon, sun-aged faces of farmers pensively sipping mate through bombillas. It's a portrait of resistance you'll wish you could hang on your wall.
Raising Resistance is playing October 1, 3:30 pm at the Empire Granville 1.
JENNIFER is currently past the point of no return at UBC Graduate School of Journalism. She occasionally tries to delve into serious issues surrounding urban sustainability, but is mostly distracted by all things arts and culture.