2012 Sundance Docs in Focus: PAYBACK

Heading into the homestretch with the World Cinema Documentary Competition: PAYBACK, from Canada’s Jennifer Baichwal, adapts Margart Atwood’s bestseller by taking a multi-tiered approach to exploring the concept of debt.

Sundance Program Description:

Jennifer Baichwal’s brilliant documentaries exemplify the alignment of form with content as she imaginatively transposes other artists’ work into the film medium to explore and expand their narratives. In her latest such project, Baichwal undertakes the ambitious task of cinematizing PAYBACK, Margaret Atwood’s visionary book of essays about systems of wealth, justice, and reparation.

Seemingly disparate forays into the worlds of migrant tomato pickers in Florida, feuding clans in Albania, victims of BP’s oil spill, and a repentant inmate all mix with insights from thinkers like theologian Karen Armstrong, ecologist William Rees, public critic Raj Patel, and Atwood herself. Integrating Atwood’s words with their outlooks, Baichwal’s luxurious pacing, arresting imagery, and astonishing juxtapositions stimulate provocative associations among ideas and realities.

Both visceral and revelatory, PAYBACK plunges us deeply into reconsidering the roots of social inequity, what we value, and debt’s profound role as an organizing principle in our lives—one that shapes relationships, society, and the fate of the planet.

Some Background:
Baichwal’s THE TRUE MEANING OF PICTURES (2003) and MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (2007) both made their US premieres at Sundance after screening at Toronto. Her previous doc, LET IT COME DOWN: THE LIFE OF PAUL BOWLES, also premiered at Toronto, while ACT OF GOD made its premiere at Hot Docs. The film’s producer, Ravida Din, executive produced Sundance alums NOLLYWOOD BABYLON (2009) and fellow 2012 World Doc Comp filmmaker Yung Chang’s previous film UP THE YANGTZE (2008).

Why You Should Watch:
Baichwal scored some advanced press when Zeitgeist Films, who have handled some of her previous films, announced their acquisition of her newest doc soon after the Sundance line-up was revealed. Like her earlier work, it takes a characteristically creative approach to a wide-ranging subject – in this case Atwood’s essays about the “shadow side of wealth.” Weaving together four disparate but thematically-linked subjects, Baichwal encourages a paradigmatic shift in the way we look at the fundamental concept of debt.

More Info:
Take a look at Zeitgeist’s site for the doc here. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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