Thursday, August 13, 2015

New/Old Colonialism

We Come as Friends (2015) - Sauper
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Hubert Sauper, a Paris based filmmaker known for his searing eco-disaster exposé in Tanzania, Darwin's Nightmare (2005), continues to document the African continent in his new documentary, We Come As Friends. This time, he sheds light on the post-referendum era Sudan. And it is a damning indictment of new-old colonialism that casts shadows on every corners of the youngest country in the world - South Sudan.

Sudan's decades long civil war claimed estimated 2.5 million lives and created the biggest humanitarian crisis since WWII. In the West, Sudan became synonymous with child soldiers, Lost Boys of Sudan and various Human Rights violations.

After decades of the bloody conflict, South Sudan's Christian majority finally broke free from Khartoum's merciless Islamic government and voted resounding yes to the cessation in 2011.

Still, as Sauper examines, that the newly founded country is riddled with many serious problems. He makes a broader claims that the chaos stems from the colonial past. He draws parallels with then and now, with British and French drawing the line in the sand throughout the continent and Chinese and American companies competing for dominance securing the country's natural resources - the oil fields that precariously borders the north and south.

Sauper, seen on the fields documenting and asking questions, shows that the control for oil fields are still raging among different factions. The oil revenues buy more weapons to fuel the conflict. Chinese oil and mine companies buy up the lands from locals who don't have the concept of land ownership exploit the land and don't take responsibilities for environmental damages. It's jarring to see garbage strewn road to the oil company compounds and seeing so many Chinese workers living in workers camp in the middle of nowhere. There are no contacts between them and its native inhabitants nearby.

With animosity between Muslims and Christians are scarier than ever and the threat of violence is regarded a necessity between them. Whenever Sauper and his crew lands their rickety plane, the first question people ask is whether they are Muslim or Christian, the intensity of their question and stares barely contains the possibilities of violence.

Stock footage of group of white settlers and dignitaries chilling near poolside is juxtaposed with modern day missionaries and foreign dignitaries. Farmers and other inhabitants are losing their land to 99 year leases for Christian missionaries and their western style schools. Children in their traditional garb are banned from attending schools. And well meaning white settlers are seen giving out T-shirts and putting sox on a Sudanese toddler on the dirt floor.

Just like Darwin's Nightmare some years ago, We Come as Friends points out overwhelmingly dire circumstances the post-colonial Africans find themselves in. We see the human cost of up close and personal and its devastating. The film's a little unwieldy and expansive, but one should give Sauper a credit for trying to encompass everything that's been going on for decades in a country still riddled with open wounds of the colonial past in 1 hour 40 minutes. It's another strong case against the long lasting effect of colonialism.

We Come as Friends opens August 14 at IFC Center. Please check IFC Center website for tickets & more info.

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