'A Journey to the Fumigated Towns': Film Review | Berlin 2018

A heated attack against agribusiness in Argentina.

Militant documentary director Fernando E. Solanas ('The Hour of the Furnaces') reveals the destruction wrought by large-scale soybean farming in Argentina.

Chronicling the devastating effects of agribusiness on his homeland, veteran documentarian Fernando E. Solanas (The Hour of the Furnaces) delivers a militant cri de coeur against pesticides and other harmful farming methods that have been used in Argentina for several decades, often with the collusion of the government.

Shot in a multitude of locations throughout the country, from villages displaced by soy plantations to maternity wards treating malformed babies poisoned by agrochemicals, A Journey to Fumigated Towns (Viaje a los Pueblos Fumigados) offers ample proof that mass corporate agriculture is the wrong way to go for this land or any land. After premiering in the Berlinale Special program, the film could see theatrical play in Latin America and pubcaster pickups in Europe and elsewhere.

Solanas begins his journey in the province of Salta, where tens of thousands of acres of trees have been cleared to make way for soybean plants. There’s a reason for this: Soybeans are Argentina’s leading export; the country provides close to half the world’s supply of soybean oil and soy meal production. In order to meet demand, multinationals like Monsato use highly aggressive methods to maximize profit and soy cultivation, planting transgenic seeds, spraying their crops with tons of pesticides and forcing local populations to abandon their family farms for the big city.

The director tracks the detrimental impact of agribusiness at various levels, speaking with local farmers who have been put out of business, native peoples who can no longer grow food for themselves, doctors who have seen a massive rise in both cancer patients and children born with birth defects, and schoolteachers and parents whose villages have been ravaged by the constant spraying of herbicides like glyphosate.

Adopting a tone of anger and exasperation at his country’s failure to quell what basically amounts to a wide-scale poisoning of its people, Solanas jumps from location to location to interview as many victims and experts as possible. He even inserts himself into the action, getting a blood test that reveals he has abnormally high levels of a toxin used to fumigate crops. But his problems seem minor compared to the scores of malformed babies we see in one harrowing sequence set in a maternity ward, or to those of an indigenous family living like vagrants on what used to be fertile land.

This is not the first documentary to deal with the evils of agribusiness — Food, Inc., The World According to Monsanto and Our Daily Bread are all good examples— but in terms of showing how a single nation has suffered under widespread farming techniques imposed by foreign corporations, Journey is a necessary addition to the canon.

Operating the camera along with Nicolas F. Sulcic, Solanas shoots things fast and efficiently, showing little concern for giving us pretty pictures (some footage looked blurry in places; lots of images are desaturated). Cutting by five credited editors pieces dozens of people and places together in a short time span, making for a dizzying effect that further underscores the direness of the situation.

Production company: Cinesur S.A.
Director, screenwriter, producer: Fernando E. Solanas
Executive producer: Victoria Solanas
Directors of photography: Nicolas F. Sulcic, Fernando E. Solanas
Editors: Juan C. Macias, Alberto Ponce, Nicolas F. Sulcic, Fernando E. Solanas, Jose Maria del Peon
Composer: Mauro Lazzaro
Sales: Wide House

In Spanish
97 minutes