[DEBATE] : (Fwd) New anti-privatisation film features Soweto
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat May 26 16:07:51 BST 2007
(Tragically, the Soweto star, Bongani Lubisi, passed away in late 2005.)
aljazeera May 19, 2007
Florian Opitz, a German filmmaker whose latest work
takes a critical look at the impact of privatisation on
people's lives, says the selling off of state holdings
has become an "unchallenged ideology".
The Big Sellout, to open in German cinemas on Thursday,
explores the effects of privatisation on rail,
healthcare and other public services.
The documentary, which features lengthy interviews with
Joseph Stiglitz, the former World Bank chief economist,
will also be released shortly in the United States,
Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, Opitz said on
Spread of privatisation
Opitz told Reuters news agency: "What really bothered
me before starting this was that everyone said you
can't do anything about the spread of privatisation,
even though it affects so many people in such a
"If people are informed about the potential impact of
privatisation on healthcare, railways, power suppliers
and still want it, that's their choice.
"But they're usually left in the dark. My aim was to
show privatisation's impact on people."
While insisting he is anything but a fan of Michael
Moore, the US filmmaker, and his confrontational
approach, Opitz's English-language film Der Grosse
Ausverkauf - as it is titled in German - is similar in
Featured in the documentary, Simon, a British train
driver, says he once worked for the most efficient
railway system in Europe, but since its privatisation,
it has become run-down and dangerous.
"Privatisation has become such an unchallenged
ideology," said Opitz, who spent four-and-a-half years
on the film which has financial backing from German
"It is not a law of nature. Too many people shrug and
say 'What can you do?'"
In another segment of the four-part story, a poor
mother in the Philippines struggles to raise money for
the dialysis her son needs.
In the end, hospital staff tells her she should just
accept that she cannot afford her son's treatment and
let him die.
The third story is about a South African activist and
his "guerrilla electricians" who risk their lives
helping families illegally re-connect their power after
a privatised electric company switched it off over
The fourth story is about violent protests in Bolivia
in 2000 that accompanied - and prevented - attempts by
the local congress to impose charges for water they had
"Sell now, pay later - our world is being privatised,"
said 34-year-old Opitz.
"This looks behind the abstract idea of privatising
basic public services."
He said: "Who will have access to water, energy, public
transport and healthcare? Only those who can afford
Opitz's film has been featured in festival screenings
in Toronto, Chicago, Berlin and Hong Kong.
[The Big Sellout includes interviews with Joseph
Stiglitz, the former World Bank chief economist (EPA)]
THE BIG SELLOUT is a political film. In various episodes the abstract
phenomenon of privatisation is depicted in stories about very concrete
human destinies around the globe. The documentary tells tragic,
tragicomic but also encouraging stories of the everyday life of people,
who day by day have to deal with the effects of privatisation politics,
dictated by anonymous international financial institutions in Washington
D.C. and Geneva, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the
World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
In his film, author and director FLORIAN OPITZ reveals the reality of
the privatised and globalised world, which is supposed to be effective
and shiny. He examines the effects of THE BIG SELLOUT, the worldwide
privatisation of basic public services, such as water supply,
electricity, public transportation, and even public health care. In
South America, Asia, Africa, but also in Europe and the United States,
OPITZ meets people, for whom these promises are nothing more than hollow
phrases. And what he finds is that THE BIG SELLOUT has only just begun.
FLORIAN OPITZ talks to the architects of the new economic world order,
as well as to ordinary people who have to deal with the politics of the
former. He tells the story of a South African activist who helps poor
families in Soweto, who are disconnected from electricity by the to-be
privatised electricity supplier ESKOM, because they cannot afford to pay
the high electricity bills anymore. Hunted by the Police and the
company's security he and his team of guerilla electricians reconnect
these families back, illegally.
Another storyline is about a Philippine mother living with her family in
a slum area in Metro-Manila. For years now she has been struggling to
find money to pay for the dialysis, her son needs twice a week. If she
doesn't succeed until the end of the week, her son will die.
A humorous British train driver and union activist is the protagonist of
the third episode. Having proudly started his career in the most
efficient railway system in Europe, some years later he finds himself in
a privatised, totally fragmented, and run down industry whose service
regularly collapses. He is constantly fighting for his colleagues who
have been facing more and more pressure from their private employers
over the recent years. Pressure that has already lead to a numerous
deadly accidents in the British railway system.
Last but not least, THE BIG SELLOUT tells us about the fight of the
Bolivian citizens of Cochabamba against an US corporation that had tried
to take over the municipal water supply. The tempted takeover lead to
the first “water war” in human history, in which tens of thousands
Bolivian citizens fought against the Bolivian police and military.
Allthough depicting the tragic privatisation failures all over the world
there is a lot of hope in the episodes. In a desperate situation that
seems to have no alternative to a „survival of the fittest“ mentality,
people unite and stand up against a seemingly all-powerful enemy.
In the documentary, Joseph Stiglitz, one of the world's best known
economists and Nobel Prize winner for economy makes the viewer
understand where the dogma of privatisation came from, who profits from
it, and what societies lose, when following it blindly. As refined
former director of the World Bank, he comes from the world of financial
institutions, but today he is fighting for the losers of the
privatisation process, triggered by these same organizations.
THE BIG SELLOUT is a very special film: The different storylines of the
film are not narrated one after the other, but woven together and
carefully intertwined in a thrilling, episodical structure that is as
compelling as truthful, and results in a film that is even more exciting
than the sum of its parts.
SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA
the 32 year old father of two daughters is an activist of the Soweto
Electricity Crisis Committee. The organisation was found by citizens of
the biggest South African township, when the to be privatised
electricity supplier ESKOM intro-duced massive electricity cut-offs of
households, that couldn’t afford to pay their electricity bills anymore,
which was the majority in Soweto. Bongani and his friends launched
Operation Kanyesa (Kanyesa is a Zulu word and means: “Lights on!”) to
help the affected families simply by reconnecting them back to
electricity. Because of his engagement Bongani became very popular in
Soweto but also made a lot of enemies, amongst others ESKOM and the
members of the governing party ANC.“I’m not afraid of the prison
anymore”, he says. “I always prepare my family that one time they might
get a call that says: I’m dead.”
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