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by Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian, Directors
A Cinema Guild Release, 2005.
DVD, VHS. NY, NY, 73 mins., col.
Sales: $225; rental: $85
Distributor’s website: www.cinemaguild.com

Reviewed by Aparna Sharma


Any oppositional or radical political discourse in purporting alternatives or solutions assumes an assertive function that afflicts it with political positivities such as those it seeks to critique. Environmental activist and physicist Vandana Shiva’s eco-feminist critique of globalisation cannot but be ideologically appreciated and has, indeed, rallied in the Third World, at least, both Gandhian and Leftist support. The documentary film, Bullshit, follows Vandana over a sustained duration of two years, mapping a rich body of engagements that enables insight into the unworthy outcomes of transnational capital flows. Bullshit brings to the fore pockets of the Indian subcontinent, Latin America, and South-East Asia, where the algebra arising from the marriage of advanced capitalism with Third World liberal and neo-liberal economic policy has failed in its rhetoric of equitable justice and development; and has, instead, culminated in some areas into a steadily expanding register of severely indebted farmers’ suicides. In this Bullshit’s effort is commendable for having penetrated difficult hinterlands that are usually no more than disputed statistical figures in mainstream media, suppressed in both the global and national imaginations.

However, Bullshit is a more complex film. It strikes at the anti-globalisation and, indeed, the entire NGO sector’s (Non-Governmental Organisation) implication in the mechanisms of late capitalism. This is brought forth in the film succinctly by Barun Mitra, Vandana’s neo-liberal critic, who raises the issue about how she has been catapulted to iconic status through a complex set of networks arising from the advances over the last decade in ICTs and the very sectors, such as biotechnology, that she criticises. The film suggests how Vandana’s near propagandist agenda against institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, and transnational corporations, such as Monsanto and Coca Cola, is increasingly formulated as celebratory, democratic dissidence. Indeed, she has achieved significant successes, particularly in the field of patents at the European Patents Office. However, the film could have probed further and more critically her posture towards liberal and fiercely market-oriented economic policies at a national level, exploring the implications of Vandana’s activities with respect to the dissipatory intents of the ‘global’ institutions she is combating——an aspect raised in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire. Her complicity and that of NGOs generally with the mechanisms of late capitalism is very subtly hinted in the film——and through this the film raises very crucial questions for politically committed documentary practice. Bullshit suggests the evolving ideological tensions between filmmaker and subject in terms of the film’s own discourse being with, yet further than its sympathies towards leftist political sentiment, achieved through the injection of minute instances that facilitate deconstructing Vandana Shiva’s own posture. These minute instances are sparse in the film and, perhaps, the film could not have gone any further than it does. But the eliciting discourse of the film would have been more transparent had it not adopted the handheld camera so consciously and obviously as an oppositional aesthetic. The incessant and disturbing shakiness of the camera in a few sequences objectifies the aesthetic and dilutes the film’s emergent discourse into unmerited flippancy. Further, its structure and design could have benefited from a more reasoned use of juxtaposition as an empirical strategy for critique rather than purely for dramatic arrest arising from the shift between varied landscapes.

But Bullshit is a crucial film on a further account as it very clearly points at the contradiction embedded in Vandana Shiva’s ventriloquist posture for voicing the marginalised. This contradiction, in terms of her bourgeoisie elitism, is revealed in her own words and provides possibility for interrogating her ventriloquist agenda, which does not reflect, in fact evades her own subject status. It is a bold gesture on behalf of the filmmakers to include this information, and it serves more than the function of profiling Vandana. It is an index for a series of contradictions at the heart of post-coloniality, which can enable us to grasp more closely the lapses of third world anti-colonial movements whose revolutionary scope remained confined to the confrontation with colonialism and got diluted when power shifted from the colonisers to the compradors——upper class intelligentsia, and the steadily proliferating middle classes. Factoring in this problematic at the heart of subaltern nationalism enables problematising a third worldist mentality and resisting a hierarchical superiority for certain kinds of discourses over others. In sum, Bullshit’s occupations surface as primarily with advances in science and technology and their dystopic disseminations through global networks. Its principal inadequacy is its equation of ideology and political posture into a consistent aesthetics that it assumes stands in for political confrontation. On this issue, the film displays an opacity towards discussion within film towards a politically informed practice——a question that has occupied recent theory-practice film scholarship in Europe and America rather rigorously. In this opacity, the film evades a very rich debate between the implication of art, politics and technological advancement.




Updated 1st March 2007

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