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// Films // Life and Debt

Life and Debt

Stephanie Black / United States / 2001 / 80 ' / English


John Mullen
Kyle Kibbe, Richard Lannaman, Alex Nepomniaschy & Malik Hassan Sayeed
Stephanie Black, Sarah Manley & Jamaica Kincaid
Narration Jamaica Kincaid
Based on: Jamaica Kincaid's "A Small Place"

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Awards & Festivals

2002 Winner, Prague One World Film Festival, Audience Award

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Documentary look at the effects of globalization on Jamaican industry and agriculture.


Life and Debt is that rare breed of documentary which succeeds in both educating and informing its viewers on a complex topic while also entertaining them from start to finish. Thanks in part to the stunning natural beauty of Jamaica, Life and Debt is a cinematically beautiful masterpiece which explores the inherent contradictions and hypocrisies of neo-liberal ideas of development by examining the effects of IMF imposed structural adjustment policies on the idyllic island paradise of Jamaica. Sadly, for most Jamaicans, the paradise tourists enjoy is more like a living hell for those who live in it. Using individual interviews and cases the filmmakers weave a damning portrait of the consequences of Free Trade, structural adjustment and other notions of development imposed from outside the country and sold as being in the best interests of Jamaica and its people. Former Prime Minister Michael Manley was elected on a non-IMF platform in 1976. He was forced to sign Jamaica's first loan agreement with the IMF in 1977 due to lack of viable alternatives-- a global pattern common throughout the Third World. At present Jamaica owes over $4.5 billion to the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) among other international lending agencies yet the meaningful development that these loans have "promised" has yet to manifest. In actuality the amount of foreign exchange that must be generated to meet interest payments and the structural adjustment policies which have been imposed with the loans have had a negative impact on the lives of the vast majority. The country is paying out increasingly more than it receives in total financial resources, and if benchmark conditionalities are not met, the structural adjustment program is made more stringent with each re negotiation. To improve balance of payments, devaluation (which raises the cost of foreign exchange), high interest rates (which raise the cost of credit), and wage guidelines (which effectively reduce the price of local labor) are prescribed. The IMF assumes that the combination of increased interest rates and cutbacks in government spending will shift resources from domestic consumption to private investment. It is further assumed that keeping the price of labor down will be an incentive for increasing employment and production. Increased unemployment, sweeping corruption, higher illiteracy, increased violence, prohibitive food costs, dilapidated hospitals, increased disparity between rich and poor characterize only part of the present day economic crisis.


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