Meet Big Oil’s Big Men in Nigeria and Ghana | 

Masked rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria.
Masked rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria.
Big Men

Companies have been taking oil out of Nigeria for nearly half a century, making it one of the wealthier nations in Africa.

But the wealth is not well-distributed. What should have been a boon for Nigerians has left out most of them. Corruption, domestic and foreign, a series of coups and the concentration of oil wealth has actually undermined progress and development. At least half of all Nigerians live in poverty.

In the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria, some have taken up arms to steal from and sabotage the oil pipelines. It has made for a continuously insecure situation in the region and a burgeoning health disaster caused by oil spills, both intentional and accidental.

A new documentary film, Big Men, explores if the ‘resource curse,’ will repeat itself elsewhere in Africa.

Other African nations already have had experiences somewhat similar to Nigeria. The citizens’ hope that follows the discovery of oil frequently loses out to the realities of competition and corruption. The ‘resource curse’ applies as much to coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo and diamonds in Angola as it does to Nigeria’s oil.

That’s why some were immediately worried when a small US oil company discovered oil in the ocean off the coast of south Ghana. The Dallas-based Kosmos Energy tapped into some 3 billion barrels in 2007. The company had negotiated a favorable contract with the government of Ghana that would give them exclusive drilling rights for finding such a field.

At that time filmmaker Rachel Boynton was looking for a new project. Her documentary, Our Brand is Crisis, provided a look inside the workings of politics through the political consulting firm Greenberg Carville Shrum’s work in the 2002 Bolivian election.

“I was feeling very ambitious. I wanted something very big and very difficult,” she said to Humanosphere.

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Disturbing documentary exposes lasting impacts of Indonesian atrocities | 

Anwar Congo watches footage of his film with his two grandsons.
Drafthouse Films/courtesy Everett Collection

Indonesia, home to more than 238 million people living across 17,508 islands, will soon hold new presidential elections. The surprise entry of the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, launched him into the position as front-runner for the July polls.

The young democracy will have only its third direct election since the end of the 31 year rule of Haji Suharto, in 1998. While there are many factors at play, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in a period between 1965 and 1966 still lingers. Unlike other mass killings, the perpetrators won out and are still in power.

The Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing follows some of the men who committed countless executions during the same period. One of these men, Anwar Congo, is held up as a local hero in his hometown located in North Sumatra. He is an outwardly triumphant figure that went from selling movie tickets to killing, so he claims, more than 1,000 people.

In the start of the film, Congo leads director Joshua Oppenheimer to the roof of a building where many people were killed. He carefully explains that more crude methods were used to kill suspected Communists, but the blood was too much to handle. A simpler and less messy solution was devised that involved tying a wire to a pole and using it as a counter-force to strangle people to death.

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Documentary film explores what’s at stake in the war on drugs – generic drugs | 

Fire in the Blood will be screened Saturday, 7 pm, at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98122.

A prize-winning documentary film, Fire in the Blood, will be screened in Seattle this weekend to make the case that there is another war on drugs taking place across the planet – a still-raging war on generic drugs that began more than a decade ago over the price of AIDS medications.

Dylan-Mohan-Gray “We have a deeply flawed system of drug development and commercialization that affects everyone, including the United States,” the director of the film, Dylan Mohan Gray, told Humanosphere by Skype from his home in Mumbai, India. “This film, and this issue, is not just about AIDS. It’s about what’s undermining people’s access to medicines.”

Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and even a drug industry insider-whistleblower work to transform this documentary exploration of the complex politics of the pharmaceutical industry into something more like a murder mystery thriller.

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Global Health at the Oscars | 

The talk the day after the Academy Awards is about Argo’s win, Jennifer Lawrence’s fall and whether or not host Seth McFarlane was funny. The show ended with a song saluting the losers of the night. Two of those losers were documentary films that covered stories of health.

Open Heart was nominated in the short form category. It tells the story of eight Rwandan children who suffer from rheumatic heart disease. They must travel to Sudan’s Salam Center in order to undergo lifesaving open-heart surgery. It includes the dual story of Rwandan cardiologist Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, illustrating the challenges he faces, and Italian surgeon Dr. Gino Strada, the head surgeon at the Salam Center. Continue reading

Film Review: Half the Sky is half humanitarian heroics, half celebrity ego trip | 

Cross-posted from Seattle Globalist: A review of Half the Sky, a PBS film celebrated for championing women’s empowerment worldwide. This reviewer says the celebrities hurt this celebration.

By Cyan James



Actress Olivia Wilde hangs at the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya as part of Half the Sky

Newsflash: being a woman is surreal.

Last night I was supposed to be at the gym. So I could look slimmer and prettier or something. But I had a headache. So I stayed on the couch, stumbled across human dolls on Facebook (seriously?!), and tuned in to the much-trumpeted nationwide premier of Half the Sky.

The documentary sprung from the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, carrying on the crusade against violence, discrimination, and lack of education visited upon women around the world.

These aren’t stories about women trying to lose weight and look prettier. They’re not vying for attention via extreme surgery. They’re not beating down Harvard’s doors, or scrambling for the next rung in the corporate ladder.

They’re just trying to take their next breath.

Kristof and his film crew whisk us through a worldwide tour of struggling women in struggling countries. From Sierra Leone to Vietnam, we’re introduced to a heartbreaking parade of teenage girls, each one fighting her very culture for a viable life, often with enough grace and forgiveness to keep smiling.

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