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Film Review: The Take and Argentina: Hope in Hard Times

THE TAKE

a film by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein

2004, www.nfb.ca/thetake

 

ARGENTINA: Hope In Hard Times

a film by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young

2004, available from Bullfrog Films,

www.bullfrogfilms.com

 

The sound of thousands of banging pots and pans reverberating through the city of Buenos Aires on December 19, 2001, brought me out into the streets to witness and participate in an extraordinary time: the Argentinazo, when the Argentine people ousted their president and turned their country upside down.

The months preceding and following that event rumbled with popular frustration at the country's economic disaster: a huge national debt to foreign creditors, massive privatization, a rapidly sinking peso, the economic decline of the middle class, growing unemployment and poverty, and corrupt politicians.

In the United States today, we face a huge national debt to foreign creditors, massive privatization, a rapidly sinking dollar, the economic decline of the middle class, growing unemployment and poverty, and fraught elections. Everyone from Alan Greenspan to the Chinese government has warned that the inevitable economic adjustment to our ballooning trade deficit could be painful. Americans have borrowed up to our eyeballs and are relying upon the goodwill of foreign creditors to keep our economy propped up. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush touts the privatized virtues of his “ownership society” in which more and more global resources are owned by fewer and fewer people.

Two important new documentaries filmed during the Argentine crisis of 2002, Argentina: Hope in Hard Times and The Take, follow the efforts of the Argentine people to create a different kind of “ownership” society out of the collapse of the old model, a recuperated society in which workers become owners of their factories and neighbors become owners of their communities. Both films offer lessons in what ordinary people can do in an economic crisis of the sort we may soon be facing.

Full disclosure: I did a one-day stint as a translator for The Take and introduced the directors of Hope in Hard Times to some of the people interviewed in the film. Seeing the faces of some of my Argentine friends and neighbors in these films brought back the difficulties and triumphs of that fragile and ferocious time, when all of us, myself included, had to throw out our preconceived notions and learn by doing.

 

The Take

focuses on the “recuperation” of abandoned factories by their workers and on the struggle between the old and new politics that arose during the Argentine elections of 2003. It follows the story of Fredy, a worker at the Forja auto parts factory, who, with his fellow workers, took over the factory after the owner stopped paying their salaries.

Klein and Lewis also introduce us to some of the other recuperated factories in Argentina where approximately 15,000 workers have formed cooperatives: Zanon, where workers rely on the enormous support of the community, and the much publicized sewing factory, Brukman, where the violent worker eviction is caught on camera by the Klein-Lewis crew as they run with the crowds away from tear-gas lobbing police. (See my article in YES!, Fall 2002)

While these battles are happening on the ground, the film follows another, national battle: will Argentina re-elect a president whose adherence to IMF policies and the political and economic agenda of transnational corporations brought on the country's economic crisis? The film contrasts the Old Politics, an antiquated system where votes are bought and not earned, that relies on the search for a savior who promises security and order in a troubling time, and the grassroots work of the New Politics, where people roll up their shirtsleeves and do it themselves.

 

Argentina: Hope in Hard Times

gives us a broader picture of what the New Politics and the New Economics looked like in Argentina during the economic collapse. Dworkin and Young show us not only workers running abandoned factories, but also unemployed workers building new communities on the outskirts of town, garbage-sifting cartoneros (cardboard recyclers) forming organizational alliances with the middle class, and unemployed urban professionals creating their own barter economy. The film also weaves in the historical importance of the “change of heart” that followed the Argentinazo, when people woke up, at least momentarily, from the fear and divisions that had been instilled in them during the military dictatorship, and looked to each other for solidarity and support. Hope in Hard Times reminds us that moral values are, like politics, not something imposed from above, but arise from our own recognition and need of one another. And they can be stronger than fear.

 

In Argentina, as elsewhere in Latin America, popular resentment at IMF driven economic policies that favor corporate gain has pushed politicians towards making decisions that put the people first. President Nestor Kirchner's decision to try the “unorthodox” route of stimulating internal consumption, forming trade alliances with other Latin American countries and China, and telling creditors to wait their turn seems to be paying off. Unemployment and poverty are down, and investment—especially from Argentines—is up.

 

The Take, which was filmed over six months in Argentina, is polished and exciting documentary journalism, with a higher budget and bigger crew than Hope in Hard Times, but in its narrower focus it misses out on the range of grassroots activities that Young and Dworkin, who produced their film on a shoestring budget with a crew of two, manage to convey. For a thorough and inspiring picture of how people can begin to create a different kind of “ownership” society, I recommend seeing them both.


—Lisa Gale Garrigues

Lisa Gale Garrigues is a contributing editor of YES! She won a Project Censored award for her story on Argentina published in YES! in 2002. Email Signup
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