A film by Hubert Sauper
Winner Best Documentary, European Film Awards
Winner Vienna Film Award, Viennale, 2004
Running time: 107 mins
Country of origin: France / Austria / Belgium
Language: English / Russian / Swahili
Screen Ratio: 1.66
Sound: Dolby SRD
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TIME OUT London
"A fascinating cautionary tale in the guise of a documentary
showing how, in the age of globalisation, things can evolve in
the worst possible of unforeseen ways. Witty, incisive, heartbreaking,
angry, shocking, and very imaginative, it's yet further
proof that Austrian film-makers are now getting things right."
“Fascinatingly detailed and enriched by the candor and dignity
of its shockingly deprived interview subjects. Sauper also has
an admirable facility for getting close enough to his remarkably
unguarded subjects - the pilots, politicians, factory owners, etc.
- to show them not as villains, but as people.”
THE TIMES UK
“Billed as a study of the Nile perch, a ruthlessly effective
predator introduced into Lake Victoria 30 years ago, Darwin's
Nightmare is in fact hardly about that at all. True, these giant
fish are a constant presence in Hubert Sauper's sobering
documentary, but the focus is not the lake's ecosystem but the
personal stories of those who work in the fishing, filleting and
transport industries that have colonised the Tanzanian shore.
Every day, vast Russian planes arrive in Mwanza airport in the
north west of the country, leaving with a daily cargo of 500 tons
of Nile perch destined for the Russian and European markets.
What these planes carry on their way into Africa is a mystery
that nobody wants to talk about, until a solitary, subdued pilot
admits that he flies tanks and other weapons into Angola.
That's where the real money lies. The fish are simply a bonus
that fill up the planes on the flight back to Europe.
Most of the local people involved with the Nile perch have no
idea about the hardware passing through their country. Many
are grateful to the industry for the employment it provides, but it
attracts domestic problems too. The job hunters flooding into
the area encourage the spread of AIDS, while the large number
of men with a little cash in their pockets and nothing to spend it
on allows prostitution to flourish.
The cruellest irony is that while so much fish is exported to
Europe, Tanzania itself is struggling to avoid famine, so a
secondary industry has grown up drying and roasting the
decayed, discarded fish carcasses, salvaging what
nourishment remains. How much blame can be pinned on the
fishing industry and how much should more properly be
attributed to Africa's wider problems is open to question, but
this is a desperately sad story, told by people who accept their
plight with astonishing serenity. It is a great injustice that not all
of them live through to the end of filming.”
WINNER - Best Documentary 2004 - European Film
WINNER - Europa Cinemas Label Jury Award -
WINNER - Vienna Film Prize - Viennale
WINNER - NFB Documentary Award - Montreal
WINNER - Best Film - Copenhagen Dox
WINNER - Grand Prix - Festival de Film
Darwin's Nightmare is a tale about humans between the North and
the South, about globalisation, and about fish.
Some time in the 1960's, in the heart of Africa, a new animal was
introduced into Lake Victoria as a little scientific experiment. The Nile
Perch, a voracious predator, extinguished almost the entire stock of the
native fish species. However, the new fish multiplied so fast, that its
white fillets are today exported all around the world.
Huge hulking ex-Soviet cargo planes come daily to collect the latest
catch in exchange for their southbound cargo… Kalashnikovs and
ammunitions for the uncounted wars in the dark center of the continent.
This booming multinational industry of fish and weapons has created
an ungodly globalized alliance on the shores of the world’s biggest
tropical lake: an army of local fishermen, World bank agents, homeless
children, African ministers, EU-commissioners, Tanzanian prostitutes
and Russian pilots.
Notes from director, Hubert Sauper
Origins of the Nightmare
The idea of this film was born during my research on another
documentary, KISANGANI DIARY that follows Rwandese refugees in
the midst of the Congolese rebellion. In 1997, I witnessed for the first
time the bizarre juxtaposition of two gigantic airplanes, both bursting
with food. The first cargo jet brought 45 tons of yellow peas from
America to feed the refugees in the nearby UN camps. The second
plane took off for the European Union, weight with 50 tons of fresh fish.
I met the Russian pilots and we became "kamarads". But soon it turned
out that the rescue planes with yellow peas also carried arms to the
same destinations, so that the same refugees that were benefiting from
the yellow peas could be shot at later during the nights.
In the mornings, my trembling camera saw in this stinking jungle
destroyed camps and bodies.
First hand knowledge of the story of such a cynical reality became the
trigger for DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE, my longest ever cinematographic
"In the Eastern Congo alone, the casualties of war on each single
day equal the number of deaths of September 11th in New York."
Said to be the birthplace of mankind, "The Great Lakes Region" is the
green, fertile and mineral rich centre of Africa.
The region is also known for its unique wild life, snowy volcanoes and
famous National Parks. At the same time, it is truly the "Heart of
Darkness" of our world.
Massive epidemics, food shortages and of course civil wars rage in this
area, taking place in a kind of moral oblivion. These armed conflicts are
the deadliest ones in history since the second World War. In the
Eastern Congo alone, the casualties of war on each single day equal
the number of deaths on September 11th in New York.
If not totally ignored, the uncountable wars are often qualified as "tribal
conflicts", like those of Rwanda, Burundi or Sudan. The hidden causes
of such troubles are, in most cases, imperialistic interests in natural
Filming in the Heart of Darkness
To shoot DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE we used a minimalist unit: my
faithful travel companion Sandor, my small camera and I. We had to be
very close to our "characters" and follow their lives over long periods. I
feel like they are an important part of my existence now. When you look
out for contrasts and contradictions, reality can become "bigger than
life". So in a way it was easy to find striking images because I was
filming a striking reality. But it was also easy to get into trouble.
On location in Tanzania we could never really show up as a regular film
team. In order to fly with cargo planes we had to disguise ourselves as
pilots and loadmasters and carry fake identities. In villages we were
mistaken as missionaries, and in fish factories managers feared we
might be EU hygiene inspectors. We had to become Australian
businessmen in the fancy hotel bars, or just harmless backpackers in
the African bush, "taking pictures". Many many days were lost in front
of sweating, confused and questioning police officers, on checkpoints
and in local prisons. A good part of the filming budget was wasted just
paying for our freedom in bribes and fines. The national newspaper
headlines and even the BBC in London declared, "French and
American journalists kidnapped by bandits on Lake Victoria". Since the
writer Nick Flynn from NY was travelling with us, the US embassy in
Dar es Salaam started franticly ringing the alarm for their lost citizens.
There was no kidnapping, however, but once again we had been held
back on a remote fishing island - this time accused of shooting "blue
movies" with naked girls.
Forced idleness became a dull routine. We would sit in the merciless
equatorial sun surrounded by a million Nile Perch skeletons, the local’s
food, trying not to go mad.
Survival of the Fittest?
The old question, which social and political structure is the best for the
world seems to have been answered. Capitalism has won. The ultimate
forms for future societies are "consumer democracies", which are seen
as "civilized" and "good". In a Darwinian sense the "good system" won.
It won by either convincing its enemies or eliminating them.
In DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE I tried to transform the bizarre success
story of a fish and the ephemeral boom around this "fittest" animal into
an ironic, frightening allegory for what is called the New World Order. I
could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish
would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria
or Angola, crude oil. Most of us I guess, know about the destructive
mechanisms of our time, but we cannot fully picture them. We are
unable to "get it", unable to actually believe what we know.
It is, for example, incredible that wherever prime raw material is
discovered, the locals die in misery, their sons become soldiers, and
their daughters are turned into servants and whores. Hearing and
seeing the same stories over and over makes me feel sick. After
hundreds of years of slavery and colonisation of Africa, globalisation of
African markets is the third and deadliest humiliation for the people of
this continent. The arrogance of rich countries towards the third world
(that's three quarters of humanity) is creating immeasurable future
dangers for all peoples.
It seems that the individual participants within a deadly system don't
have ugly faces, and for the most part, no bad intentions. These people
include you and me. Some of us are "only doing their job" (like flying a
jumbo from A to B carrying napalm), some don’t want to know, others
simply fight for survival. I tried to film the personalities in this
documentary as intimately as possible. Sergey, Dimond, Raphael,
Eliza: real people who wonderfully represent the complexity of this
system, and for me, the real enigma.
Biography - Hubert Sauper – Director
Hubert was born in a village of Tyrol, Austrian Alps. He lived in Great Britain, Italy, the USA,
and the last ten years in France. He studied film directing in Vienna (Univ. of Performing Arts)
and in Paris (Univ. de Paris VIII.) and graduated B.A.(Mag. art) Hubert teaches film classes in
Europe and USA. The last two documentaries he wrote and directed were awarded twelve
International Film Prizes.
As an actor he played in several shorts and two feature length films:
"IN THE CIRCLE OF THE IRIS" (Dir. Peter Patzak, with Philippe Léotard) and "BLUE
DISTANCE" (Dir. Peter Schreiner).
Filmography (as writer and director)
ON THE ROAD WITH EMIL
(1993, Documentary, Austria, 30min 16mm)
Best Short Film Int. Festival Würzburg 1994. Prix Max Ophüls.
Best Documentary Nexon, France 1995.
SO I SLEEPWALK IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
(1994, fiction, Austria, 55min, 16mm)
Premio da casa da Figueira da Foz, Portugal 1995. Best First Film, Best Film
(1995, Documentary, Russia, 30 min, for TV)
(1998, Documentary, France/Austria, 45min, 35mm)
PARIS — Cinéma du Réel Grand Prix du meilleur Film 1998
ST. PETERSBURG — "Centaur 98" for Best Documentary Film
NEW YORK — Gold prize for Best Documentary, NY Film Expo 1999
KRAKOW — "Don Quihote Prize" 1998
LONDON — One World Media Award 2nd prize 1998
NÜRNBERG — 1st Human Rights Award for Best Film 1999
BERLIN — "Forum of young cinema" 48th international film festival
MONTEVIDEO — Special Jury Mention
KARLOVY VARY — Special Jury Prize for Documentary 1998
GENEVA/NY/L.A. — International Humanitarian Award
ALONE WITH OUR STORIES
(2000, Documentary, France, 60min, DigiBeta, for TV)
(2004, Documentary, France/Austria/Belgium, 107min, 35mm)
Written and directed by Hubert Sauper
Artistic Collaboration: Sandor Rieder, Nick Flynn
Cinematographer: Hubert Sauper
Sound engineer: Cosmas Antoniadis
Film Editor: Denise Vindevogel
Sound design: Veronika Hlawatsch
Mille et une productions, Paris
coop99 filmproduktion, Vienna
Saga Film, Bruxelles
In collaboration with
ARTE and WDR
Commissioning editor Sabine Rollberg
YLE 2 Helsinki
With the support of
Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC) France
Vienna Film Fund (FFW) Austria
Centre du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel de la Communauté Française de
Belgique et des télédistributeurs wallons
(Docu -- France-Austria-Beelgium)
A Mille et Une Prods. (Paris)/Coop99 Film Produktion (Vienna)/Saga Film (Brussels)
production in association with Arte, WDR, with VPRO Amsterdam, SVT Stockholm,
YLE2 Helsinki, CBC Toronto. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced
by Edouard Mauriat, Antonin Svoboda, Martin Gschlacht, Barbara Albert, Hubert Toint,
Hubert Sauper. Directed, written by Hubert Sauper.
By DAVID ROONEY
This article was updated on Sept. 23, 2004.
Austrian documaker Hubert Sauper focuses on the ripple effect of a
globalized economy in a specific microcosm to weigh the casualties of
the New World Order in "Darwin's Nightmare." Somewhat haphazardly
organized yet fascinatingly detailed and enriched by the candor and
dignity of its shockingly deprived interview subjects, this sobering story
of life in a fishing community on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania
should springboard from festival slots into cultural film forums and
public broadcasters' schedules worldwide.
Hatched out of Sauper's research for "Kisangani Diary," his 1997 docu about
refugees from Rwanda caught in the Congolese rebellion, the new film identifies
the catalyst for chaos as an eco-upset of the 1960s that's still reverberating
As a minor scientific experiment, a bucketful of Nile perch were introduced into
Lake Victoria, birthplace of the Nile and the largest tropical lake on Earth. A
voracious predator, the fish wiped out almost every local species in the lake,
multiplying fast enough to produce massive stocks of white fillets that were
exported all over the world.
In Sauper's sprawling collage, the fish story serves as a foundation and biting
allegory for a larger study of greed, opportunism and First World indifference
toward the Third World. From the Russian cargo planes flying out loaded with fish
but flying in with weapons to fuel the African conflicts claiming thousands of lives
per day, to the African ministers and European Union officials turning a blind eye
to the starving locals, who are forced to subside on rotting perch carcasses,
Sauper assembles a lucid picture of the ugly realities of the economic food chain.
"Survival of the fittest" here takes on a new, uneasy meaning.
The local government downplays the havoc wreaked on the ecosystem of a lake
at risk of being turned into a barren sinkhole, while at the same time talking up
the benefits to the national economy of the fishing trade. Prostitution, HIV
infection and alcoholism are rampant in the fishing community of Mwanza, as are
violent crime and drug use, notably by local homeless kids melting down the
plastic packaging used by the fisheries for an often lethal toxin-sniffing high.
The fisheries also have taken farmers away from their work, leading to shortages
of rice and other food staples.
Shot in an immediate, no-frills style by a two-person crew, the film is unhurried
and seemingly unstructured. Sauper adheres to the approach of many Euro
documentaries that tend to lay out an arbitrary wealth of information, leaving the
audience to draw its own conclusions with ostensibly minimal guidance. This fits
with the sense that the director -- rather than having a carefully mapped-out
path -- is tirelessly scratching the surface for new information and being led on
tangents, subtly uncovering the bitter ironies of the situation along the way.
Sauper also has an admirable facility for getting close enough to his remarkably
unguarded subjects -- the pilots, politicians, factory owners, etc. -- to show them
not as villains, but as people whose worst crime may be their selective intake of
information about the ramifications of their work.
The real heart of the film, however, is the Tanzanians -- from fishermen and
prostitutes to an uneducated night watchman working a high-risk job for $1 a day
-- most of whom are interviewed in rudimentary English. These locals' pragmatic
acceptance of their harsh reality is both illuminating and saddening.
Death on the Nile
Wednesday May 4, 2005
Two years after the fall of Idi Amin, I found myself, a disoriented teenager, wandering through
western Uganda. Amin's departing army had destroyed everything. I walked through the
Murchison Falls national park to a deserted game lodge on the banks of the Nile and camped
in one of the rooms. I spent my evenings with the staff, who now survived on what they could
grow and catch.
One morning they took me down to the river and gave me a hand-line with a small fish on the
end. I fed it out around an eddy, and soon pulled in a monster: black and silver, with a great
crested fin and a mouth into which my head could have fitted.
It was inevitable that a European adventurer would, as "a small experiment", think of moving
a bucketful of baby Nile Perch upstream and into Lake Victoria. One bucket, apparently, was
all it took. The predator proliferated, wiping out hundreds of endemic species, and generating
a $1bn industry.
The lives now built around it have been brilliantly captured in a documentary, Darwin's
Nightmare (released on Friday), by the Austrian film-maker Hubert Sauper.
Sauper lived with the fishermen, prostitutes, street children, businessmen and pilots in the
Tanzanian town of Mwanza, on the shore of Lake Victoria. He builds a story that could have
been told about almost any African commodity: of the enrichment of foreign businessmen and
impoverishment of everyone else. We slowly discover that the Russian planes flying out the
fish are bringing in arms for the conflicts in Congo, Angola, Liberia and Sudan. We find that
the fish are being caught only for foreigners: the heads and skeletons, soon heaving with
maggots, are left for the locals. Otherwise, the only benefit the locals receive from the industry
is the broken packaging, which the street children melt down and sniff. A night watchman
armed with a bow and arrows tells Sauper that he hopes for war, as it offers the best chance
for men like him to make a decent living.
This predatory, commodity-based capitalism, like the Nile perch, devours everything: the
thousands of lives around the lake destroyed by Aids and poverty, the prostitutes killed by
foreign businessmen, the millions sucked into civil war. Darwin's Nightmare is an allegorical
tale of the exploitation of Africa, and a moving and beautifully filmed portrait of the little fish
living in the global pond.
TIME OUT LONDON
Hubert Sauper’s acclaimed documentary is a compelling cautionary
tale that clearly shows how, in this age of globalisation, things can
easily evolve in the worst possible of unforeseen ways. Back in the
1960s someone poured some non-native fish into Lake Victoria. The
profoundly predatory Nile Perch was far bigger than its native rivals
and, in killing off most species, also had a deleterious effect on the
human population: farmers moved to the lake to become fishermen
and satisfy the European and Russian demand for fish, which in turn
caused massive economic change, sickness, poverty and, inevitably,
Witty, provocative, angry and heart-breaking, this incisive,
imaginative film ranges wide in the subjects it covers. Filming
undercover gave Sauper access to an impressive array of people,
from businessmen and pilots to prostitutes and EU politicians, some
of them alarmingly frank in their admissions. Less an exposé of
corrupt individuals than a terribly lucid investigation into mankind’s
mad capacity for (self-)destruction, it’s a film that will surely prick
the conscience of all who see it. GA
Source : Time Out London Issue 1811: May 04-11 2005
Reviewer's Rating ???? User Rating ????
Darwin's Nightmare (2005)
Reviewed by Tom Dawson Updated 29 April 2005
The West's plundering of the natural resources of Third World countries may
not be a new story, but Austrian director Hubert Sauper's compelling
documentary succeeds in revealing the subject in a memorable new light.
Focussing on the fishing community of Mwanza on the shore of Lake Victoria
in Tanzania, Darwin's Nightmare follows its impoverished inhabitants who
export their catches to Europe and Japan in return for Russian cargo planes
full of arms and ammunition destined for civil wars in neighbouring countries.
Darwin's Nightmare begins with a "little scientific experiment" in the 60s, when
a bucketful of Nile Perch was introduced into the world's largest tropical lake.
This fish turned out to be a ruthless predator, multiplying rapidly and wiping
out all the other species in the waters. Whilst the locals sell the white fillets to
overseas markets, they themselves are forced to eat scraps from the rotting
perch carcasses. Mwanza's population, meanwhile, has been decimated by
AIDS, with many of the women turning to prostitution and gangs of gluesniffing,
orphaned children left to roam the streets."A SHOCKING
REMINDER"Juxtaposing natural beauty and human hardship, Sauper lets his
film unfold at an unhurried pace and he interviews, sometimes secretly, an
impressive range of people connected to events in Mwanza. He speaks to
pilots, factory owners, fishermen, bar girls, priests and journalists. Half the
Tanzanian population, it emerges, subsists on less than $1 dollar a day, and
one man explains how war is hoped for, because at least men can then be
paid by the government to fight. It's a shocking reminder of how what Darwin
called the "survival of the fittest" depends on the exploitation of the least
Variety – June 20-26, 2005