I watched the documentary "Raising Resistance" (2011, 85 min) by Bettina Borgfeld and David Bernet at the "Movies that Matter" festival. The title refers to the struggle that some small scale, traditional farmers (campesino's) in rural Paraguay are involved in to save their way of life from being effected by multinational land grabbing, the emergence of genetically modified super species and the use of herbicides. The movie's title is ambiguous, a pun. It can be interpretted as the resistance raised by local people towards multinationals. Or it can be read as the fact that monoculture crop farming, in combination with GMO's and chemicals, creates resistant species that become dominant. Indigenous fauna and flora fade away.
I asked the directors what motivated them to make this documentary and it boiled down to wanting to tell the story of the small scale farmers in Paraguay. But why this particular story - deforestation and cultivation of soy, all for the production of large scale beef consumption abroad? Where I live (in Europe) monoculture is the norm. All you see is green grass, well mostly. As far as I know the last primeval forest here is on the Polish-Belarus border - the Bialowieza forest. Why shouldn't famers in South America do the same and maximise the production potential of their soil?
A few more things grabbed my attention during the Q&A. When asked how they got the multinational farm managers to be interviewed they said that it was almost impossible. None wanted to meet with them and the directors concluded that the big farmers consider documentary makers to be political activists. I can imagine the dilemma documentary makers have. They want to make an aesthetically pleasing, timeless, in depth and balanced story of people. It must go beyond a journalistic news item or NGO propaganda. And yet the subject matter they chose is inherently political. It has to do with money and power. Just before the end of their stay one of the large scale farmers did agree to be interviewed, and proudly explains how he chopped down all the trees and killed tigers in preparation of forming his plantation.
All the scenes and interviews in the film are patient and expansive, drawing the viewer into the geography of the setting and daily lives of the farmers. And I must admit that the portrait of the struggling Brazilian immigrant farmer and his wife together with the short clip of the farm manager mentioned above provides balance in the film, which appealed to me emotionally. My heart goes out to the campesino's but I can certainly relate to the dilemma's other farmers have in this day and age. The documentary makers have succeeded in going beyond making an awareness piece for an environmental organisation. However if all NGO's could make films of this quality that would make me even happier!
For me this documentary is a call to campaign for small scale, diversified and unfettered farming. However, again one of the directors undercut my feeling of agency by saying that she spoke to a viewer at a previous screening, a prominent professor in economics, ethics or some such and his opinion is that in the future the only medium of significance that will determine the course of events is the "market". That is how the Q&A and my trip to the cinema to see Raising Resitance ended!