Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: Big Men Review

Big Men

Big Men

“Everyone has the desire and drive to be well off in life,” or so says one of the subjects of Rachel Boynton’s fascinating, frightening, and multi-faceted look at the often corruptible and highly lucrative African oil trade. It’s a line said by a savvy investor who thinks he’s “movin’ on up like The Jeffersons,” but who is about to have his life ruined. It’s also a similar sentiment shared by brazen, profit hungry bandits who think they should have a cut of the oil riches.

Boynton compares and contrasts a pair of African nations only two countries away from each other, but both are at greatly different points in their evolution when it comes to dealing with oil companies. Ghana only recently discovered in 2007 that they have a wealth of oil just off shore that could become the first even major natural resource for the country to make money from. American and local investors flock with the “best” of intentions, but things quickly become complicated as soon as money gets involved and a governmental change ends up costing billions of dollars and more than a few peoples’ jobs. This is all held in contrast to Nigeria, a country that has been dealing with the push and pull of the oil industry since the 1950s. The fifth largest supplier of oil to North America in the world, Nigeria has faced levels of municipal, governmental, and personal corruption so unprecedented that the country squandered, stole, or just straight up lost $440 BILLION in the second half of the twentieth century alone. It’s a windfall that could have turned a starving and developing nation into an actual world power, but instead still has a great majority of citizens that live at or well below the poverty line. It’s of little wonder that armed bandits and raiders often conduct massive raids to steal oil and sell back to people and simply pocket the proceeds.

It’s certainly a chilling comparison to watch the people of Ghana make the same mistakes that Nigeria did even with what they think is a sound business plan in place. Watching all of these players try to be the titular masters of their domain, it’s easy to see just how greed can turn businessmen and potential freedom fighters into profit minded mercenaries. But the real power of Boynton’s well assembled work is just how unfiltered and uncensored her access to her subjects are. Whether its CEOs of major corporations or machine gun toting, balaclava wearing foot soldiers, everyone is very up front with Boynton about how they feel they should be getting their fair share and why they think they are getting screwed over. What they really should be doing, however, is probably not saying anything at all. (Andrew Parker)

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Screens

Wednesday, March 5th, 6:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox

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