Monday, February 13, 2006

Problem Solving

"Darwin's Nightmare" is an Oscar nominated Documentary Feature by Hubert Sauper (photo above). I earned another checkmark on my Academy Awards nomination list by going to see it tonight at the Lammele's Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills.

I had to turn my head away from the screen several times because some of the images are impossible to watch. It's about the extreme poverty in Tanzania and is filmed primarily in the town of Mwanza on the banks of Lake Victoria (the second largest lake in the world) which feeds the Nile River.

An enormous, non-native fish, the Nile Perch, has taken over the lake and has eliminated all other fish. This includes fish that clean the lake and now the lake is suffering from the lack of oxygen.

Meanwhile, 500 tons of Nile Perch a day is being fished out of the lake. While millions of people in Tanzania are starving, the fish is flown daily to European markets. And the cargo planes don't fly to Africa empty -- they bring guns and military supplies to nearby countries, then jump over the Tanzania and fly home with their fish cargo -- leaving behind a hideous cycle of poverty.

I've never been a big fan of fish -- and now I've seen enough disgusting footage of fish guts and fish heads and maggots to keep me away forever.

Before the 7:30 screening began the theater manager apologized to the remaining members of the 5:00 audience who were expected a Q&A from the director, Sauper. The director hadn't shown up and the manager didn't know where he was.

So it was a pleasant surprise after the 7:30 screening when the manager announced Sauper was there and ready to take our questions.

He came down the aisle and stood next to where I was sitting and with no introductory comments said he was happy to take questions. No raised hands. Awkward.

So given my Junior Statesmen training I figured I ought to ask a question. "Your film certainly doesn't make the government of Tanzania look very good. What was their reaction to you filming this documentary in their country?" (Seemed like a softball question to me.)

Sauper stared at me, blinked, gulped and said, "Why are you asking me that question? Is there a reason?"

So of course I replied, "Yes, I'm a representative of the Tanzania government." You should have seen the wide-eyed look on his face.

(I really hadn't thought he would take me seriously for a second.)

I quickly said I was kidding and everyone had a good laugh. Sauper explained that he had literally just flown in from Tanzania to Los Angeles yesterday in order to attend today's Oscar Nominees lunch at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The Tanzania government was not reacting well to the documentary at all. In fact, he was just in Zanzibar (which is part of Tanzania) and the government attempted to prevent him (unsuccessfully) from traveling to other parts of Tanzania. So I guess the timing of my question hit a nerve.

It was interesting to hear Sauper describe his role in presenting a dilemma without feeling a need to presents solutions or easy answers. He wanted the audience to be disturbed by the problems he filmed -- and he didn't want the audience to be absolved of their culpability simply by writing a check or emailing the President.

Speaking of solving dilemmas -- I'm happy to report that both and Del Shores responded to emails today about my problems yesterday with "Southern Baptist Sissies." Shores wrote me personally and his producer sent an email to their entire distribution list making it crystal clear that Leslie Jordan will not be appearing in any matinee performances. Shores also offered to comp me into a performance of "Sissies" with Jordan in it this week, but that doesn't work out with my schedule. So he offered me two tickets to his next show at the Zephyr.

And offered me two tickets to any other show they are currently selling ticket for.

So sometimes it pays to complain. And I think it didn't hurt that I complained on the day my blog's site meter hit 5,000.
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