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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Reality on Our Doorstep

by Marinell Haegelin

A prevailing societal attitude is: It can’t happen here. Until it does. Having reality on the doorstep forces populations to acknowledge what’s impossible to dodge. Conservatives control numerous media and news coverage is too often dissimilar; therefore good documentaries provide eye-openers to topics requiring change. Three documentaries this year focus on issues that will most likely have devastating, demoralizing results if global playing fields aren’t leveled and restructured before it’s too late.

Societies live longer—true: and have better healthcare—false. In fact, we’re all on a slippery slope. Fire in the Blood shatters many myths relating to healthcare, pharmaceutics, and Western countries’ entanglement. Worldwide, societies are bamboozled by the pharmaceutical industry’s hold on governments and economies. AIDS deaths in developing countries are disproportionate—case in point Africa—and for profit. In 2001 Cipla Limited in Mumbai, India, introduced a generic version of their three-in-one (antiretroviral drugs) “cocktail.” Africa confirms a dramatically swift drop in AIDS-related deaths. These and more shocking facts are laid out logically, in a sequential timeline. Pharmaceutical industries lost a war. But won the battle: We learn about TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). The World Trade Organization signed this agreement in 1996; “draconian power,” “(WTO) signed death warrants.” It triggers developing nations’ alarm concerning developed nations’ interpretation and implementation of TRIPS. Especially gullible and culpable are Americans. The majority is over-medicated, yet generic drugs aren’t legally available. Because of this blatant profiteering unusual alliances are forming to force change or reinvent the system. Is hope still possible? Former President Clinton says, “TRIPS has to be amended.” Many interviewees hold that with enough pressure, change can happen. (Another AIDS documentary review regarding African families is: Memory Books – Damit du mich nie vergisst... May 2008, www.kinocritics.com)

After two years in Italy, via Tripoli, 300 African refugees are tossed out with 500 euros each. Landing in Hamburg, and totally unassisted, they ask the pastors of a church overlooking the harbor if they can sleep in the garden. Instead, 80 are allowed to sleep and live in the church. The local community—organizations and private individuals—help them: with clothes, food, and by guarding them night and day. Volunteers teach them German; they receive tours of Hamburg in French and English. In return, the refugees keep the church clean and help with repairs and gardening. The Bishop and others work to find a resolution. The Interior Minister in Berlin does an about-face regarding group vs. individual asylum. Men’s lives are in limbo; families are still in Italy. One Pastor comments, “The Africans came, and we had an African summer.” As winter approaches, the pastors vow the refugees can stay until a solution’s found: “If they’re still with us at Christmas, we could have a very different interpretation, as Jesus was a refugee too.” Lampedusa auf St. Pauli could have been meatier: Why Hamburg? Are there any other refugees in Germany? Why leave Tripoli where they had asylum? (I know one answer—during the 2011 civil war Gaddafi used them as cannon fodder.) What did they do in their own countries? Understandably, many refugees didn’t want to give names or appear on camera. But black cards would have filled in blanks for audiences. I doubt there will be a wider audience than in Hamburg—a stretch, in Germany. And I’d still like to know, since clips were shown throughout, who won the Fußball (soccer) match between St. Pauli and the Lampedusa team?

On March 11, 2011, the Japanese Tōhoku earthquake generated a tsunami. Beyond the Wave damage to equipment at the nuclear power plant maintained by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) in Fukushima Daiichi produced a nuclear catastrophe. The seaside Namie-town, 20–30 km away, was hastily evacuated; displacement sets off psychological traumas. The filmmaker fondly remembers childhood visits here. Now she accompanies aunt Kuniko and Uncle to inspect their bakery, funeral parlor and function room for weddings—“an odd mix even for Japanese.” The area is ravaged. They, and the community, wait for clearance to return. Their son and daughter-in-law move on—250 km away—and recreate one of Kuniko’s businesses. The town council endeavors to hold remaining townspeople together. After two years the evacuation order is partly lifted; a final trip to gather their most precious belongings and pay respect at ancestors’ graves is subsequent to the protagonists redefining their lives. Demonstrating the power of hope and an indomitable spirit, regrettably the film’s overexposed; and having lived ten years in London, the director’s subtitles are shoddy.

These documentaries harbinger warnings that are squarely on developed countries’ doorsteps. TRIPS affects aging WWII baby boomers, but upcoming generations will undergo the mega-nightmare most adversely. US culpability is shameful. The country finally, in the 21st century, votes into law a universal health-care plan that Tea Party “politicians” hold for ransom during the recent budget-filibuster debacle. Personally I think all US federal political positions—House, Senate, Supreme Court et al—need term limits; that would certainly curtail shenanigans and lobbyists. Fire in the Blood’s a riveting must-see exposé for everyone, everywhere. Whereas Lampedusa auf St. Pauli is a portrait of life in limbo, adding a human face that facilitates understanding, but it exposes itself to personal interpretation. People who want asylum and financial aid should be candid. Such circumstances demand thinking outside the box, which universally politicians don’t seem capable of. Globally, countries are struggling to take care of their own as it is. Beyond the Wave illustrates how easy solutions aren’t the best. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident was the Soviet Union’s misfortune; reactions to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster have been diverse and often ad hoc from intergovernmental agencies. But citizens’ anti-nuclear sentiment is manifesting—in India, Taiwan, throughout Europe and the United States. Synergy, i.e. public opinion, is the genesis of change. Their horror will be ours; we’ve seen it! Also, for a terrifyingly good read check out Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 book It Can’t Happen Here.

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