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Film: "Profit, Nothing but", a Raoul Peck movie

Posted: Thu Jul 01, 2004 2:47 pm
by admin
"Profit, Nothing but", a Raoul Peck movie

By Hyppolite Pierre

Appealing to both our rational and emotional sides, Raoul Peck began this critical project by posting on the screen the image of a beach in Port-à-Piment, a coastal city in the South of Haiti. The words used in each segment by what we call in cinematography, the voice-over” are powerful and sometimes intriguing in their poetic use. The movie tends to be critical of capitalism, but does not necessarily reject market economy as a viable economic system. Instead it purports itself as an observatory, pointing out some serious flaws that negatively impact humanity as a whole.

Some may view in earlier segments of this movie, the barely concealed comparison between feudalism and capitalism as strongly influenced by Marxist thoughts. However, the movie is not a
n overall indictment of the capitalist system.

In many of the scenes, economists and other experts mostly from France and Haiti, share their views and at times skepticism about capitalism as it functions to date. Their analyses are mostly viable when they question the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) mentality of dismissing hundreds and even thousands of employees, with the consent of their Board Members, as they increase their individual salary or benefits by millions of dollars.

It is that level of greed that is perhaps to date, one of the most controversial aspects of the capitalist economic system. The lines in this movie question the validity of such greed from an either moral or ethical standpoint. This is especially true as real people, after having dedicated years of their lives sweating for a company, and are oftentimes their family's breadwinner, suddenly lose even their sense of worthiness because profit has slumped and therefore, their economic value to a company becomes either insign
ificant or nonexistent.

Perhaps the best marker on this issue was when one economist questioned the moral decision of a hypothetical wealthy individual whose total portfolio has already reached the 2.2 billion mark, but will still create a social, environmental, or economic imbalance just to increase his wealth by a mere 100 million to 2.3 billion dollars. What sense does it make, seems to be the question.

“Profit, Nothing But”, an equation

This is when the term “Profit, Nothing But” makes the best sense. Raoul Peck projects on the screen this equation to explain his rationale. In the beginning, the product or merchandise was at the center of human activity. It was first the merchandise that was bartered. As money became the most pragmatic commodity, you then had this equation: Merchandise ― Money ― Merchandise. Thus, Money was only a means to obtain Merchandise and to purchase new ones. Eventually however, money became the ultimate goal. Merchandise became simply a pretext
to amass more wealth. Thus, the equation changed to become: Money ― Merchandise ― Money. All transactions from that point on, became nothing but a pretext for others to accumulate more wealth, more money.

Making a profit has become such an imperative force, that wealthy and even decent capital holders will put their moral value on the side to accumulate more wealth. In that context, the image that Peck offers in the movie, of Dictator François Duvalier shaking hands at the National Palace in Haiti with the ultimate American capitalist, Rockefeller, becomes significant. François Duvalier's distribution of one billet of gourde to poor Haitians just to assure their fidelity is an extremely embarrassing sight to anyone from that country, watching it with an international audience.

“Similarity in Contrasts, and Contrasts “

What is also fascinating in that movie, is the compare-contrast visual game played by Raoul to show the poverty in the city of Port-à-Piment Haiti, and the ord
erly presence of European and American cities with their well-groomed population and also their destitute. The wide highways that are packed with cars and signs to indicate at which point of a city or a State one is in, are a poignant contrast to a road in Port-à-Piment where a poor young man is taking on ropes a small army of goats probably destined to the market place or the slaughter-house. Yet, in interviews with both these poor and middle-class Haitians, and middle-class and poor whites and blacks in the developed world, the question of existential value remains the same. Are we all there for profit, or to live? Should money define our lives, or should it be something else?

The Darwinism in capitalism seems to be the scariest part of that system for Raoul Peck. It is that “survival of the fittest” that terrifies him, or so it seems. There is little romanticism of the poor but yet, the accusations and comparison (although brief) between capitalism and feudalism is probably unfair.

The matte
r of quality of life becomes thus an essential point that Raoul Peck seems to be driving home. There is a search for an alternative, a third way, apparently so far from the horizon. Peck makes it quite clear in this 52-minutes masterpiece, that for someone or even a country to exist in this new world where capitalism is the new king, it has to be profit-focused and profit-creator. It is in this context that he continuously repeats “Haiti is a country that doesn't exist”.

Haiti indeed does not exist, if one follows his logic: the United States, Germany, France, or even Chile certainly do. If one goes to the furthest corner of Sierra Leone, or Namibia, or the Central African Republic and say that he or she is German, or American, the people there have a point of reference. They know of German, or American products and of their society and wealth. But if one goes to Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur and talks of Haiti, very few will know of such a place. Even in the United States of America, it is difficult for
most to even pinpoint Haiti on a world map. The reason is simple: Haiti does not exist in the capitalist market as a viable entity. So we all are children of that profit-focused logic.

“Alternatives? “

Perhaps by the end, Raoul offers some glimpse of hope as he seems to focus more and more on resolution rather than simply exposing ills and weaknesses in capitalism. Nevertheless, the picture does not offer much hope for a better economic system. Still, the solutions are within the framework of his exposé. The matter of profit-for-profit is perhaps the most controversial point focused on, since economic growth cannot take place unless there is a focus on profit in the market place.

The human element as a determinant in any economic equation, especially capitalism, is probably the most convincing argument in the movie. The natural richness of Port-à-Piment with its imposing beaches and smiling people, the abstract and not so abstract points made by the talking-heads economists and others in
the movie make it a wonderful experience to a curious mind. Raoul's poetic voice adds to the value of this movie. It is a movie that should also be viewed at least twice if one really desires to master its depth.

“Profit, Nothing but” is an enriching experience and should be seen by economists as well as curious minds, even just for the images. Life, not profit, as the centerpiece of human existence, is clearly an essential in Raoul's philosophy. This is truly another classic of Raoul Peck, after his movie “Lumumba”.

Raoul Peck and Haitian images in Film

Posted: Mon Aug 09, 2004 5:01 pm
by Empress Verite
One and Respe!

First of all I would like to praise Mr. Peck and his brother for their commitment to film and video and the media re/presentation of Haitians in film. I really liked the prequel that Raoul Peck did for the Lumumba movie. It was great movie about how his family worked and lived in the then Belgian Congo before the murder and downfall of Patrice Lumumba. I felt so hopeful and his feelings came through so clearly. I also appreciate the fact that he returned to Haiti during the first Aristide presidency to work as minister of culture and help build a Haitian movie theater. I believe that he is still working in a small town in the South EAST(?) on building a film industry/education.

I like Mr. Peck's works However I have not seen Man By The Shore. I have read great reviews about it. I struggled through his book about his life and struggles through Haiti, Africa, Europe and the US. I f
eel that he has had a hard life and all that he and his family has experienced created a vivid imagination and honed his passion for life. We see these portrayed in his film making.

Having said that let me write that Profit and Nothing But is one of my all times favorite films. I am particularly fund of documentaries and this was the best that I have seen so far. I felt that he did an excellent job at giving voice to the important sides of the issue. The various facets of capitalism and where it has taken Haitians since Independence and even how the colonial era impacted the development of that particular kind of capitalism. I speak especially of ti mache. This is where the machan or street vendor (most likely female) buys in bulk and sells retails on a very small scale. I especially appreciated how he interviewed French expert and social scientist Emmanuel Wallerstein, and others along with Haitian social scientist about this issue. Can we make it on this economy of scales and sizes? I applaud his e
ffort to present the global aspect of this issue when he portrayed the black/African American (sounding coulda been a Djaspora) man who collected cans and bottles to resell. This was big business and lucrative to an underclass of people created by the bureaucracies and negative isms of Capitalism. CLR James would have loved it. I also remembered another documentary about how when manufacturing companies close their doors in the US and outsource and/or re/build in a so-called 3rd world (economy) country like Ayiti. This usually creates animosity on all sides. The laissez faire that these companies enjoy in the Nation States usually encourages abuse of workers ala Andre Apad and his company in Ayiti. This abuse is not worth the pennies and low wages and sometimes no wages that these workers earn for their hard labor.

On the other hand, the best part of the movie was the image of the black couple with natural hair (great art/painting 60's 70's theme) that it ended with. This is our hope. Love and sex?
will conquer all. Our children will perhaps find the answer. I was so happy for the depiction of love in the middle of economic struggle. We know that money and sex are the number 1 and 2 reasons for divorce or break up of a marriage or relationship or placaj. Whereas I am not certain of the rate of divorce for djaspora Haitians I believe that those who married in Haiti/Ayiti and migrated together probably have higher rates of non-divorce than those who met and married in the US. I would love to know the statistics for this and for the 2nd and 3rd generation. I hear the alarms rigging for the 2nd generation already they are in decline and it shows in their relationships. They probably marry outside of their ethnic group even though they may remain within the same racial group. This is based on identity. The 1.5 probably also tend to gravitate towards other ethnic groups within the same race but with same immigration status. However, those who migrated as post-pubertal 1st generation (in their teens and early
20s) probably have one of the most fascinating relationship makeup that I have seen yet. They seem to marry outside of their race the most and I am not sure why that is! I believe that this has to do with the correlation of race and class. While they want their children to speak French they feel that they must also have the physical appearances of the Upper class. This takes us back to colonial era Ayiti.

I look forward to viewing the dramatic version of the Profit and Nothing But. It will be a great love story about Haitians and we need it asap. These recent times have created a huge problem for us and our relationships suffer our home lives suffer and these do not make for healthy and happy social relations, communities and children. While I don't advocate that folks should stick to situations that are unhappy and unhealty or abusive/painful, I feel that we should work on our communications on the issues that plague us because these will continue to follow us to other situations and relationships.

HBO proved my point that it is the HOme Black Office when it showed Lumumba a couple of years ago. And I saw Profit on the NPR movie channel (forvige me I forgot it's real name). It was a great view and I want to get the tape. :D