Life and Debt

Life and Debt

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May 12, 2007

Utilizing excerpts from the award-winning non-fiction text “A Small Place” by Jamaica Kincaid, Life and Debt is a woven tapestry of sequences focusing on the stories of individual Jamaicans whose strategies for survival and parameters of day-to-day existence are determined by the U.S. and other foreign economic agendas.

By combining traditional documentary telling with a stylized narrative framework, the complexity of international lending, structural adjustment policies and free trade will be understood in the context of the day-to-day realities of the people whose lives they impact.

Here’s an excerpted review of the film by Homa Khaleeli, originally posted on

“I guess I thought the IMF was like the Red Cross”

This surprisingly naive beginning was the starting point for Stephanie Black’s myth-shattering analysis of globalisation, the film Life and Debt. Set in Jamaica, the film documents how the schizophrenic nature of the island, both an earthly paradise and a crippled nation, is aggravated by the economic trinity of World Bank, IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Sold out in New York through word-of-mouth advertising alone, and with a similarly packed premiere at Human Rights Watch’s film festival in London, Black’s film has filtered into the public consciousness. By taking the film to the edges of the mainstream, she has avoided “preaching to the converted”, and can triumphantly challenge the cosy myths built up around the IMF.

Herself an American, Black uses western tourists to demonstrate “our own culpability” directly implicating the audience in the events on screen. Intent on packing as much alcohol, sun and escapism into their short weeks of holiday, their careless hilarity is horrifying when set against the poverty and crime caused by spiralling debt and ever-accumulating austerity packages.

A searing narration of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place gives voice to the people ignored by glossy tourist brochures. The anger of her words and their lyrical beauty mirrors the film’s contrasting themes and is continued through the use of a politically charged reggae soundtrack. Bob Marley’s One Love appears in different versions. It is used as if to comment that it’s association with Jamaica’s tourist board symbolises how reality is distorted to fit the stereotype of a tropical idyll.

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