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Life and Debt
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Life and Debt More at IMDbPro »

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Exposes the dark side of globalization

Author: deus491 from United States
20 November 2007

This film, though somewhat simplistic and emotional (for obvious reasons), does an excellent job of conveying to a broad audience some of the negative effects of globalization on a small, developing economy like that of Jamaica. One often hears critiques of international capitalism and the lending policies of the IMF and World Bank, but in most cases the criticism lacks pertinent examples of the direct impacts of globalization, or fails to make an effective case for why we should care. This film manages to do both, by providing relevant facts (increases in national debt over time, predatory interest rates tied to 'development' loans from the World Bank, critical industries undercut by international competition, etc.), and illustrating the ground-level effects on Jamaican citizens both visually and through numerous informative interviews. The film is interspersed with scenes of oblivious American tourists enjoying their vacations at expensive Jamaican resorts safely isolated from the surrounding poverty, to highlight the developed world's ignorance about the plight of Jamaica and similar underdeveloped countries.

As a precondition for aid, the IMF and World Bank usually require that developing countries drop any significant barriers to trade. When the doors are opened to international trade, lower-priced goods from abroad undercut local goods, and eliminate the market for any industry that cannot compete with the mass production that larger economies are capable of. While opening barrier-free worldwide markets for goods and services benefits the large economies already in a position to compete on such a scale, the sudden and forced introduction of 'free' trade to underdeveloped economies often disrupts domestic industries, which are given no opportunity to transition. While the consumer market is suddenly flooded with relatively cheaper goods (cheap enough to undercut the local competition, not to benefit consumers in any way), globalization fails to provide domestic producers with the inputs and capital (fertilizer, machinery, etc.) necessary to compete with producers abroad. As a result, the economy is robbed of its traditional sources of income and capacity for self-sufficiency, instead becoming reliant on weak foreign aid and tourism as national poverty continues to increase.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Powerful & sobering

Author: Always_against_torture from Victoria, (Canada), Earth
11 March 2007

As a documentary 'Life and Debt' has many merits one of the most apparent and significant of which is the highly imaginative and effective way that it draws a complex concept into the form of an 80 minute film. A film with so much to say necessarily risks either becoming boring or inaccessible, however Life and Debt suffers from neither of these. Ideas are treated elegantly and efficiently, and invariably illustrated with footage of entirely appropriate and often poignant examples, which in turn allows for excellent pacing. These assets allow what could have been a very dry and abstract film to instead comfortably hold the audience's interest. By way of criticism I would say that on certain occasions subtitles were probably required to render the material fully accessible to an international audience, as the accents/dialect (and cultural constructions of language) are such that the meaning of speakers is periodically unclear. But this and what other minor failings exist pale in comparison to its strengths.

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10 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Fails Economics 101 but yet treats you like the moron.

2/10
Author: LydiaOLydia from Cambridge, UK
6 June 2007

Given the gushingly positive reviews this movie has received elsewhere on IMDb, given the negative review I am about to give it must be clear that I must be some pro-big business evil white capitalist who probably drives a Hummer and kills baby seals for fun, right?

No, not really. I am actually rather skeptical of many globalization's claims, specifically how they relate to income distribution. However, apparently unlike many of other commenters, I actually know a thing or two about economics and refuse to be swayed by the emotionally strong but intellectually bankrupt arguments that, for the most part, this movie consists of.

Here's a basic summary of the movie: 1. Jamaica is straddled with significant debts to the IMF (the movie states US $7b) 2. The IMF is a mechanism created by rich white countries to keep poor dark countries poor. 3. As a tourist, you will ignorantly go to Jamaica and enjoy your time. All the while, most of the money you spend will go back to foreign corporations. The Jamaicans will smile at you as they serve you, but secretly they mostly hate you, or at least what you represent and are doing to their country.

Overlay this theme with somber reggae music and implications of racism and you have a story that would make the ignorant want to join the ranks of the Molotov cocktail at any given G8 summit.

Unfortunately, it's pretty much complete nonsense.

For example, one thing that this movie states is that the IMF (or some other international boogeyman) forced Jamaica to devalue its currency out of some evil plot to economically enslave Jamaicans. The reality is that the previously artificially high Jamaican currency served only the Jamaican elite – the IMF's insistence that the Jamaican currency actually be subject to market forces (as part of a structural adjustment program associated with the IMF loans that were intended to keep Jamaica from slipping back into the fiscal irresponsibility that got it into the position of needing to take loans in the first place) ensures that the country remain an attractive destination for tourist dollars and gives strength to its export businesses.

Let's not forget: Jamaica is a beautiful country that can generate money through tourism pretty much as easily as Arab countries can pull oil from the ground. Jamaica had benefited from generally moderate and reasonable colonial rule and has had no significant conflicts since. It sits within enviable flight time from the wealthy USA and enjoys status as a destination for Europeans as well due to its historical ties. Its people, culture, and music are generally seen in a positive light. In short, Jamaicans are very lucky indeed compared to, say, Haitians.

And so the movie goes on and on. Look at the poor Jamaicans. You are a stupid and fat tourist. Don't you even consider when you flush the toilet in your hotel that some of the waste goes into the same ocean that used to bring slaves from Africa? (Yes, this is actually what the movie pretty much says at some point – the point of "you Jamaican – since you inherited a sound governmental and educational system from Great Britain, why can't you set up proper laws to prevent this if you are so concerned?" is nowhere to be found.)

In short, according to this movie everything that happens bad to Jamaica is not Jamaica's fault. Its America's fault that Jamaica's farmers use inefficient and ancient farming methods to the point where they can't even compete with imported food even given the Jamaican currency weakness and relative ease of transport. Large foreign businesses are evil because they both set up shop there to "exploit" local Jamaicans by giving them jobs, and then by pull out when corruption and inefficiency make them unprofitable.

Jamaica has relatively high literacy (partly a colonial legacy). It also has high levels of fundamentalist religiosity and substance abuse – two factors that the film doesn't really go into, since, well, that would be far harder than just pointing fingers.

I feel sorry for the people of Jamaica. Theirs is no easy life. But, to put the blame on tourists and the IMF, arguably the two things that are actually keeping the country afloat and not disintegrating into Haiti, is perverse. Don't fall for this movie's propaganda.

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

An eye-opening look into Third World economics.

Author: melliferous from United States
10 March 2006

Life and Debt is an arresting, soul-stirring documentary with fantastic images and a story that will haunt you long after the movie is over. I hope that watching it makes you reconsider what you know about how the world works economically, and the role of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

This film is an adaption of Jamaica Kincaid's novel "A Small Place," originally based on the story of Antigua (changed to Jamaica for the purposes of this film). If you enjoy the movie, be sure to read the book. In the film, as in the novel, Kincaid's voice-over narration is a powerful reminder of the complicated relationship between tourist and native, powerful and powerless, oppressors and oppressed. I would recommend this documentary to anyone interesting in how developed nations like the United States affect the development of Third World countries like Jamaica, even if you know nothing about it.

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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Misinformed and emotionally-charged

1/10
Author: benluttrell from Australia
21 December 2011

As the gushing reviews on this site attest - this documentary panders to the anti- globalisation, protectionist conspiracy theorists, using emotionally-charged but intellectually challenged arguments that fits their narrow, misinformed view of the world.

While the story of Jamaica is very sad, the argument that Jamaica's devalued currency and removal of tariffs and subsidies is the cause of its failed economy are not only absurd, but threatening in times of low global economic growth (look up the events of 1929, and see how this short-sighted economic policy resulted in a contagious disaster).

If Jamaica wants to turn back time to the agricultural-age, well that's fine, but you can't moan in the same breath about a lack of health, education and basic infrastructure.

In short this documentary completely misses the point. The key to Jamaica's economic prosperity is turning around its woeful productivity, encouraging foreign direct investment (and with it the innovation and technology that will modernise its industry) and committing to economic reform to liberalise its markets and promote fiscal responsibility. Without properly addressing the first point, however, this task will always be an enormous challenge.

Instead, this documentary employs brooding voice-overs, montages of mcdonalds and taco- bell, fat US tourists trying to dance, and the views of who are essentially peasants to support its uneducated idea of appropriate economic policy.

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4 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

A colorful whining documentary

6/10
Author: George Parker from Orange County, CA USA
19 June 2005

"Life & Debt" takes you past the tourist facade and into the economic woes of Jamaica with a mosaic of snippets of everything from tourists to politicians to planter/growers to international pundits and more in an attempt to show the ill effects of the process of globalization on the island nation. Unfortunately the film does little more than ask questions and illustrate the same problems which beset most of the third world while offering no solutions and pointing the finger of blame in the same direction everyone else points it, at the World Bank and IMF. The film doesn't identify the people being interviewed by name or title; offers no sense of governmental structure; avoids statistics, charts, maps, etc.; posits no plan for the future; and seems to do little more than complain. Failing to make a case for Jamaica, whose woes pale compared to Africa, "Life and Debt" comes off as a sort of plaintive cursory examination of the decline of Jamaica's economy which is, in the global scheme of things, of little consequence or significance. Should work best for those with a particular interest in Jamaica. (C+)

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3 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

If the topic interests you, this is the film to watch. But it put me to sleep. *1/2 (out of four)

3/10
Author: Blake French (baffilmcritic@cs.com) from USA
16 January 2002

LIFE AND DEBT / (2001) *1/2 (out of four)

Documentaries are probably the easiest kind of movie to make-no demanding actors, expensive special effects, enormous filming crews, or massive budgets. However, covering such specific topics, documentary movies are probably also the hardest kind of film to make entertaining.

Michael Moore does it best when he injects a cunning wit into his documentaries like "The Big One" and "Roger & Me." 1999's "Barenaked in America," detailing a Canadian band, also entertained audiences while still supplying interesting information on the subject. "Life and Debt" does not do this. It contains an appropriate style, but lacks interest.

For most of us, when we think about Jamaica, we think of a popular vacation spot. Who wouldn't enjoy it's beautiful locations, warm weather, and welcoming atmosphere. American's can even enter with a delusion of wealth since thirty Jamaican dollars equal approximately one US dollar.

But "Life and Debt" does not exploit the location as an exotic locale, it examines how the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other aid organizations have changed the Jamaican economy over the past several decades. The movie examines how agriculture, industry, government, and culture have been restructured by import-export systems, forcing the locals to live in poverty and work in sweatshops.

Director Stephanie Black does not take the normal approach to such material. She injects a sarcastic style into the scenes. An effective reggae soundtrack-including songs by Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Mutubaruka, and Peter Tosh-seasons the film. Unfortunately, despite the filmmakers' attempts, the spices do not rid the stuffy scenes of a stale aftertaste.

Author Jamaica Kincaid, whose book "A Small Place" inspired the film, guilds the audience on a tourist's journey through the visually stunning country. On a technical level, this is a good documentary; it makes good points about the topic. It surprises us while proving wrong our assumptions about Jamaican.

If you are interested in this kind of thing, this is definitely the movie to watch. But if you're not particularly interested in this topic, it's difficult to care about currency, economics, banana production, the country's poverty, etc. I found myself daydreaming, looking at my watch, dozing off. For me, this was a tedious, tremendously boring experience.

Though we can't accuse this movie of miscommunication. After watching the movie, we will all see Jamaica in a new light…that is, if we are still awake.

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