After being introduced into Lake Victoria during the 1960s, the Nile perch would go on to devastate the natural ecosystem of the world’s second largest lake, a place often cited as the origin of all human life. With Darwin’s Nightmare, director Hubert Sauper traces the effects this scientific experiment has had on the ecology and people of Tanzania, namely those in the Mwanza region of the country. Aesthetically and theoretically, the film is the antithesis of Errol Morris’s beautiful but strenuous Fast, Cheap & Out of Control in that Sauper doesn’t connect the many pieces of his thesis for the audience. What’s revealed to us over the course of the documentary’s two hours is a horrifying vision of globalization gone terribly amuck, less a nightmare than a vicious domino effect: Though the preponderance of the Nile perch in Lake Victoria brings jobs to the region, the fish are not meant for Tanzanians but the two million people in Europe—conspicuous by their absence—who feast on it everyday. Once the tender white fillets have been removed from the fish, the carcasses are taken to maggot-infested dumps, where ammonia fumes cripple the people responsible for salvaging the fish heads that are later fried and fed to the impoverished masses. Sauper piles one horror on top of another, revealing the means by which local blacks become complicit in the abuse of their people and how the material used to export the fish often gets into the hands of local children, who use it to make glue for huffing purposes, which only exposes and numbs them to all sorts of horrors including rape. The ultimate irony, though, is that the perch leaves the country via Russian planes often responsible for feeding revolutions in Rwanda and other war-torn regions with arms made all over Europe. This is a film with a lot on its plate, and while Sauper strains to connect the AIDS crisis in the region to the perch nightmare, the message that globalization in the region has become tantamount to human slave trade is never lost.
- Celluloid Dreams/International Film Circuit
- 112 min
- Hubert Sauper
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: