Poverty Politics Research Group

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Ethnograpy doesn't have to be presented through text. Anthropological film seeks to present ethnography though an audiovisual production. Here you will find a list of films prioduced by people related to Poverty Politics.

Main content

The People and The President. A Portrait of the Bolivarian Revolution (2008)

The documentary is made in cooperation with Hildegunn Waerness, who is a filmmaker based in Buenos Aires. Strønen and Waerness started the production company Geriljastil Productions in 2006.

- We have known each other for a long time and talked frequently about doing a project together. After I finished my master thesis, we started to discuss the possibility of making a documentary from Venezuela, tells Strønen. Eventually they met up in Caracas in November 2006.

- The documentary is framed around a hectic week during the presidential elections in Venezuela in December 2006. But we have sought to provide the audience with a broad understanding of what is happening on the ground in Venezuela, bringing into the picture various aspects of Venezuelan political, social and historical life, tells Strønen. Behind the headlines Venezuela has been brought into the media spotlight during the past years as one of the most left-winged radicalized countries in Latin-America under the presidency of Hugo Chávez.

- For the most part, Venezuela reaches the headlines when Chávez has done or said something controversial. When I first went travelled to Venezuela in order to do my fieldwork in Anthropology of Development in 2005, I didn’t know much about what was actually going on in the country. But I soon realized that it was characterized by partly profound social and political transformations taking place on various arenas, and the poor sectors of the society where the main protagonists for this change, explains Strønen. Grass root development New political structures seeking to draw the poor into the development of new welfare structures and decision making processes has sparked off the creation of an influential and expanding grass root movement. The development of welfare programs providing free health, education and discounted food has caused poverty rates to drop significantly during the past years. As Venezuela is an oil-rich country, the government have channelled large sums from the state oil company into these programs.

- A central focus in the documentary is how these grass root organizations are functioning on the ground and what changes this have brought about in people’s lives. The documentary is named “The People and the President”, but it is really not a film about Chávez, but about the ordinary people in the shantytowns of Caracas. However, the title was chose because you cannot escape the central role Chávez has in Venezuela. As comes out in the film, people view him as a liberator not only for Venezuela’s poor, but also in a larger perspective- as someone who tries to regain the country and continents’ sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States. However, many people are also very aware of that it is the people themselves who are the real protagonists behind these changes, and that Chavez was more a catalyst for opening up a space for political change. Cosmology of resistance In 2002, Chavez was briefly ousted in a military coup for three days, until massive popular protests brought him back to the presidential office. Sectors from the military, the former political elites and the economic and mediatic elites were behind the coup, and it was also supported by the US. Many feared that a new coup was planned for the presidential elections in 2006.

- In the last part of the documentary, we follow a group of people from a secret spot in Caracas who are prepared to take up arms in case of a new coup or other violent actions. Many of these people have roots in the urban and rural guerrilla in the decades prior to Chavez or other left-winged organizations which were labelled as subversive and clandestine. Many of the people presented in the film were jailed and tortured under the former governments for political activities. Now these groups form part of the legitimate grass root who work to expand the Bolivarian Revolution on different civil arenas. But due to the country's history, there also exists an informal militant component which has mobilized during different destabilization attempts by opposition groups, like the coup in 2002 says Strønen and continues: - Getting to know this group invites the audience to understand how militant groups in Latin-America surged from a history of state repression and opposition against US violent intervention at the continent. Latin America has a violent history, and many of these groups from different countries share a common identity based on a cosmology composed of martyrs, songs, historical events and stories of resistance from different countries as well as an historical narrative about the sufferings all over Latin America since the Spanish invasion, explains Strønen. Ethnography through cutting and sound - We are inspired by many different film traditions, and as the name of our production company says, we work in the tradition of guerrilla style filmmaking. Basically, this means that we didn’t have expensive equipment, a well-developed script or a set plan for how to structure the documentary. We got to know the people we filmed very well and many of them I also knew from my previous fieldwork. Using non-intruding low budged equipment also lessened the distance between us behind the camera and them in front of the lens. We just wanted to let people talk about what was important for them, and in the end we had close to 40 hours of raw material. We chose not to use voice-over, but instead let people talk for themselves. However, it was also very important for us to let the music and the way the film is cut being a part of the overall ethnographic account. Caracas is a bomb for the senses, with music, movement, noise everywhere all the time. Throughout the film, we try to convey this through rhythmical cutting and frequent snap shots of everyday life. The music we have chosen is music you are bombarded with everyday in Caracas; reggeaton, bachata, popular folk music, political songs. Also, we taped live music, like from a car stereo or ghetto blasters when people was around in order to get an authentic sound picture. Hence, Cuban revolutionary singer Silvio Rodriguez was taped from a car stereo with one of the militant men spontaneously humming in the background. We mean that filmatic elements like this provide ethnography on various levels, and not only through what they say, maintains Strønen. Future projects Strønen and Waerness are already planning two more documentaries, which will be realized during the next two years. One is a portrait of the secluded shanty town neighbourhood Fuerte Apache in Buenos Aires which is considered as one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Latin-America. Shanty town neighbourhoods have different names in Latin America: barrios in Venezuela, favelas in Brazil and villas in Buenos Aires. Common for them all is that they inhabit the people who have been left out of the imaginary of development and modernity in Latin America.

- The implementation of neo-liberal policies during the last 20 years have caused increased urban stratification and these neighbourhoods have grown relentlessly. For the middle- and upper-class these neighbourhoods often constitute a no-go area, and the imaginary of the people inhabiting them draws on deep-seated templates about class, race and lack of civilization. Many anthropologists point at how this imaginary constitutes a central component in the social and spatial segregation in Latin America between the have and have-nots. We want to portray everyday life in Fuerte Apache, and relate the villas history to the broader developments in Argentina from the Peronist era, through the Videla dictatorship and the neo-liberal government of Menem and up till today, six years after the collapse of the Argentine economy in 2001. Life history The second planned documentary is a portrait of the friendship between Strønen and a young, poor, single mother in Tamil Nadu, India. - I got to know her when I took a semester of anthropology in India in 2003. We are still good friends and talk on the phone every month. The film is inspired by life history anthropological accounts and want to portray her life and remarkable strength under very difficult life conditions. But we also want to enter into the sensitive terrain about the conditions for encounters between people with very different circumstances in life- people from the so-called first and third world, embodied in me and her and our relationship. We are still discussing how we will go about with this. We think it will be a very challenging task, but also very thought-inspiring. Strengths and weaknesses Strønen is now moving to London in order to take a MA in International Journalism. Her plan is to combine the fields of anthropology, filmmaking and journalism in the future.

- I see these as interrelated fields which can draw much on each other, and after having made this documentary I’m definitely more aware of the strength – but also the weaknesses - in presenting ethnographical material on film, tells Strønen. Now, she is working with distributing the documentary from Venezuela to a wider audience. - I perceive this as a very important movie, as it lets people who are often excluded from the public debate on an international level present their own perspective and experiences. Through getting to know the situation in Venezuela more closely, it also provides the viewer with an opportunity to understand the rise of left-leaning grass root movements in other countries in Latin-America. 20 years of neo-liberal development have caused a devastating increase in poverty and marginalization and sooner or later a counter-reaction had to come. In Venezuela the society is being transformed quickly now and I hope that this documentary can provide a deeper understanding of how the grass root protagonists in these processes are experiencing and conceptualizing the situation themselves, concludes Strønen. The full length documentary (80 minutes, Spanish with Norwegian/English subtitles) can be obtained by contacting post@geriljastil.com.

The Spanish version of the trailer is shown here: You Tube.

The English version of the trailer is shown here: You Tube.


En oppskrift på fattigdom (2008)

Norgeshistoriens dyreste bistandsprosjekt, en fiskefabrikk i Nord-Kenya, var en fiasko. Fabrikken har aldri blitt brukt, og lokalbefolkningen har fått store problemer. -Jeg synes det er veldig tragisk for de menneskene som har blitt nærmest lurt inn i en del av disse prosjektene, sier antropolog Vigdis Broch-Due. Hun sikter ikke bare til den norske fabrikken bygget på 80-tallet, men også til kolonitiden og dagens safariturisme. I følge Broch-Due må europeerne ta mye av skylden for fattigdommen og konfliktene i dagens Nord-Kenya. Både koloniherrer, hjelpearbeidere og turistbransjen har gjort den samme fatale feilen: krevd at nomadene skal leve på en helt annen måte,- at de skal være som oss.

Vigdis Broch-Due har bidratt til filmen som er produsert av Univisjon og vist på NRK.


Trade not aid -- lettere sagt enn gjort? (2006)

Etter mange år med mislykket bistand er det nå frihandel som skal redde verdens fattige. I Mosambik har et norsk selskap satset på import av soyabønner fra fattige bønder. Men handel istedetfor bistand er kanskje lettere sagt enn gjort? Vigdis Broch-Due har bidratt til filmen som er produsert av Univisjon og vist på NRK.

En trailer til filmen kan ses her på Vimeo.

Producing Poverty (ongoing film project)

Almost half the world’s population live in poverty – nearly three billion people. That figure is rising fast. Why? When all the talk is of “making poverty history”, when the World Bank and others talk about poverty as if it was some hangover from a pre-globalized era, something that the modern world can now do away with, why is poverty exploding as never before? The reason is simple. Poverty is not some hangover from the past. It is constantly being produced and reproduced – often by the very projects designed to alleviate it. This film is about how and why. Producing Poverty takes us into one particular world of the poor in Northern Kenya as an example of this worldwide trend. It shows how it has grown and why it won’t go away. It takes us behind the smokescreen of talk about development and globalization, about growing or shrinking economies, deep into the real world of poverty, its roots, its remarkable characters and the processes which are always minting it afresh. The film will feature Norwegian anthropologist Vigdis Broch-Due who will take us on a journey into the remarkable world of the Turkana of Northern Kenya. It is a world she knows well. She has worked in it for over twenty years both as anthropologist and development consultant. She will lead us deep into the little known lives of these proud nomads and it is they who will reveal to us what has happened there. The film will resonate with Turkana voices, full of not just of despair but also humour, irony and humanity.

The film
The film opens in Northern Kenya, a spectacular world of dry savannahs and majestic landscapes in the far north of Kenya. We see the rake-like figures of Turkana and Samburu pastoralists threading their way through this parched semi-desert with their animals. Everything about this image is spectacular; the imposing physical presence of the nomads, their elaborate body adornments, their decorated cattle and the moon-like landscape through which they are passing. It is like one of the great romantic visions of Africa, the vision of “primitive” Africa in all its poverty and grandeur. Flashes of old movies and paintings, excerpts from novels, bring this vision to life.

Emerging from this vision we meet the real Turkana: Ebei and his Samburu wife, Akai, with their extended family. We listen to them talk. They have their own ideas about poverty. To be poor in the pastoralist world is to be without cattle. Cattle are everything good in Turkana and Samburu life. They are at the core of social relations, morality, even aesthetics. Cattle are the signs of wealth and the good life. But for the Kenyan state and Aid officials, the reverse is true. Cattle and nomadism are the signs not of wealth but of poverty and primitivism. Over the years, they have made the Turkana targets for many schemes of improvement, modernization and development propelled by NORAD.

At first sight, Turkanaland might seem as remote and untouched as anywhere on earth. It is not. The vast landscape across which Turkana nomads travel is an open-air museum of failed development schemes, a wilderness cluttered with the rusting remains of long forgotten “infrastructure” projects. The central question of the film is: What have been the real effects of these “development” and “modernization” projects? The Turkana have been subject to concerted attempts to “improve” their lives since the British first arrived in their world at the beginning of the 20th century.

From anthropologist Vigdis Broch-Due we discover how British colonialists saw it as their mission not just to dominate but to “cultivate” and “domesticate” the savage realities of Kenyan nomads. This was to be done by sedentarizing them, giving them a “proper home” and subjecting them to the discipline of a tax-regime. Their “poverty” would be alleviated and their lives bettered. We discover how, in all these measures and ideas, the colonialists were drawing on an entirely European discourse about European poverty and the ways to alleviate it by disciplining and civilizing the poor. Driving this discourse was a sedentary bias to living suited to European climatic conditions with its stability of natural resources. With their sedentary perspectives, the colonials simply failed to understand and appreciate that a nomadic lifestyle is the best suited to take advantage of nature’s scarce and scattered resources of the drylands. While the core of colonial vision is place-making, the core of the nomadic vision is path-making.

We hear the voices of colonial officials talking about the need to improve the living conditions of nomads in language clearly derived from the poor laws of 19th century Britain. Images of the period drive it home. With independence, some of the language of these discourses changed but the fundamental logic stayed the same. Nomads were to be controlled and subjected to the discipline of the post-colonial Kenyan state. The discourses of poverty alleviation and social improvement became the discourses of the organizations of Aid and Development and generated countless development schemes to visit the land of the Turkana. None of these schemes have quite seemed to work. Their remnants now litter the landscape across which Ebei and his people trek with their animals: a Norwegian fish-freezing plant, abandoned settlements where the Turkana were to be turned to agriculture and become “modern Kenyans”. Here, Progress, modernity and globalization seem to have come and gone. In a bitter twist of fate, the same western romantic vision which cast the pastoral nomad as the noble savages of a “wild, untamed” Africa, now drives a world of game parks, a thriving business these days in East Africa. The multi-million-dollar safari industry is spreading over the hinterland of Kenya and it is not hard to see why. It is good for the country’s image. It brings in vast amounts of tourist revenues and is hedged around by the hard-to-argue-with discourses of ecology and conservationism. For the Nomads of northern Kenya, however, it is a disaster. It is shutting people like the Turkana and Samburu out of their lands and reducing them to sellers of tourist trinkets. The film visits a mixed Turkana and Samburu village living on the edges of game parks.

Producing Poverty is an exploration of the way contemporary and historical schemes to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of the poor have not just failed but actually achieved their opposite condemning people like the Turkana to social exclusion and real poverty. It is a study of how grand ideas and schemes dreamt up in urban centers of the West are derailed by realities and cultures too complex for them to comprehend. It is also a study of how greed and self-interest can easily hide themselves behind a smokescreen of talk about progress, development and, now, globalization. It does not propose grand solutions to the dilemmas it raises. There are none. It is not informed by a naïve nostalgia for a pre-modern, pre-globalized world. It is an invitation to think about the complexities of poverty, how it is produced and the real lives of those trapped in it.