Life and Debt
Belinda Becker, Buju Banton, Horst
Kohler, Michael Manley, Stanley Fischer
Directors: Stephanie Black
Format: color, widescreen
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and
Studio: NEW YORKER FILMS VIDEO
DVD Release Date: June 24, 2003
Run Time: 80 min
- Available Audio Tracks: English
(Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
- Commentary by: director Stephanie
- Additional footage from Michael
- Music video by Anthony B
- Photo gallery
- Soundtrack excerpts
Plot Summary: Set to a beguiling
reggae beat, Life and Debt takes as its subject Jamaica's economic
decline in the 20th century. The story has reverberations in the plight of other
third-world nations blindsided by globalization, like Ghana and Haiti. After
England granted Jamaica independence in 1962, the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in with a series of loans. These loans came with
strings attached--the kind that would eventually plunge the country $7 billion
into debt, stranded without the resources to dig themselves out. Although IMF
officials get the chance to have their say, it's clear where filmmaker Stephanie
Black's sympathies lie--with the country's underemployed farmers and sweatshop
By Blake French
- Television is not that bad, ah?
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
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
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
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
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.
We would love to know what you think, sound off on the
movie message boards and let us know how you liked the movie!