My editor for my newly found writing gig approached me a few weeks ago with an invitation to go to a film festival here in town. I jumped at the opportunity as soon as my media credentials were varified. I finally had an excuse to go to a film festival that seemed, well, not so dorky. Saying I was going for my column sounds like a better reason than something like, “I love independent films and have always wanted to go to a festival,” right?
Last Thursday night, I drove the six or so blocks to the Plaza Cinema Cafe, which was one of the venues for the festival, conveniently located close to my apartment. I attended a screening of a narrative feature called Another Planet. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film as the festival was called the Global Peace Film Festival. Judging from the title alone, what was once a film fest was now turned into a world peace demonstration. But what I came to find in viewing this film wasn’t so much world peace, but a tale of children in this world who were born into a country much less fortunate than I ever will be in my lifetime.
I look around my apartment sometimes and think, “if I only lived at The Vue,” or, “if only I could have a job that could enable me to afford a loft at 55W.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for this apartment and know that I got an amazing deal on it, but as we all know, no matter what we have in life, we always seem to want more. I guess that’s the American way of thinking, at least for most of us that were raised in an upper-middle class family. This way of thinking, this freedom that we have to be what we want, to get what we want, and to even set goals for ourselves is such a privilege and blessing that so many of us take for granted every day.
The film was shot on four different continents and featured children from different countries describing (in their country’s native language) what their life is like from day to day. These children were from countries like Colombia, Ecuador, and Cambodia. Not one of them spoke English but even through the subtitles, I just wanted to cry at parts of this movie.
One child lives her life selling “chiclets” in the street at night to make money for the family. She said that if she doesn’t sell enough gum at night, she’s beaten by her mother when she comes home.
Another young girl lives her life in a whore house where her virginity was taken at age eight while she was high on Valium from her “client.” As she’s telling the story of her daily life, she’s smoking a joint. She’s no more than twelve years old and knows, already, more drugs than I know now at my age. She “works” on the streets at night prostituting herself, getting drugged, and living in this whore house made of practically cardboard in a town where law enforcement is so corrupt it’s almost unfathomable.
Another child tells her story of every morning waking up at seven and going straight to the dump to sort through all the city’s garbage. She sifts through this garbage with her bare hands for ten hours a day hoping to find something that is recyclable such as aluminum or plastic. At the end of the day, they take it somewhere (I’m not sure where, exactly) and someone weighs what they’ve collected. In the end, she says she receives about one dollar a day. That dollar she gets is what she has to buy her food with–and all she can afford is rice.
I almost had an anxiety attack, literally, watching these children sift through the trash. As a petrified-of-all-germs hand washing freak that I am, I couldn’t bare to see this innocent child expose her bare hands to such filth, not to mention all the airborne viruses that are around her as well. This was heartbreaking to me. All that work, all that exposure to so much disease–just to get the equivalent to a dollar.
And to think that I complain about my salary. What those children would make sifting garbage for 10 hours all year is less than half than one of my paychecks.
While this film didn’t have a narrator or a “point” being driven throughout, its message came across so much clearer to me than someone saying it to me time and again. It was a film that was told not by a director or writer, but by the kids themselves. They told their stories by talking and also by us watching them silently “work” in evenings or days before they told their story. Then, in the end, we see an animal slowly marching through an arctic climate as the snow whistles loudly as it blows with the wind. This is the same animal shown in the beginning of the film that has nothing to do with any of the children’s stories, but more of I guess, another part of the planet.
My point to all of the above is this: it was devastating to see how children in other parts of the world live their lives. It was sickening to me to think about how selfish I am as an American most of the time. And how much I wish I could help those children in some way and rescue them from that life as a child prostitute or garbage sifter. I wanted to reach into the screen and take them out of that filthy life they know and give them something better.
I don’t know anything about parenting or how to take care of my own dog barely, but I do know that I could give these children a much better life than what they have. If I could make a difference in one of their lives rescuing from that disaster, then maybe it will all be worth it.