The End of Poverty? -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

NEW YORK -- For those who blame the victim or consider poverty as merely a social ill, "The End of Poverty?" will prove to be an eye-opener. This refreshingly straightforward documentary gives the world-history "backstory" (and continuing story) of why so many people live so poorly and die of malnutrition in abundant societies.

Though the topic is unappealing as entertainment, "The End of Poverty?" does an excellent job of informing the viewer without exploiting its subjects or their cultures. Prospects for theatrical success may be dubious. The title won't attract the unenlightened, but one hopes the film will make an impact over time.

"The End of Poverty?" comprises a series of intercut interviews with scholars from a variety of fields to discuss the causes of poverty and the nexus of colonialism, war, politics, economics, privatization, debt, trade and tax policies, property rights, intellectual-property rights, et al. In between these illuminating interviews. Off-screen narrator Martin Sheen guides the viewer through the two main shooting locations: the ghettos of Africa and Latin America.

The matter-of-fact tone of most of the speakers (including Sheen) allows the facts and visuals to make the film's case without excessive or manipulative emotion. Unlike a "Feed the Children" type of infomercial, "The End of Poverty?" simply presents its story as a way to help start solving this age-old problem or at least have the public think differently about poverty and its relationship to everything else.

A few small quibbles: The speakers who are interviewed are predominantly men, yet more often than not women and children wind up in poverty so why couldn't Diaz find more female scholars on the subject -- Barbara Ehrenreich, for example?

The restraint from finger-pointing may be deliberate (in order for Diaz to maintain his general big-picture strategy), but surely the worst politicians and corporations could have been named and highlighted, which would have put names and faces on the problem. At least we hear about Pinochet at one point and there is also a brief mention of Ronald Reagan.

Obviously, "The End of Poverty?" couldn't include everything without being several hours long (and Diaz says his first cut actually was) so maybe a few sequels are in order. But what the film contains is vital and significant.

Opens: Nov. 13 (Cinema Libre Studio)
Production companies: Cinema Libre Studio, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
Director/screenwriter: Philippe Diaz
Producer: Beth Portello
Executive Producer: Clifford Cobb
Co-producers: Matthew Stillman, Richard Castro
Director of photography: Philippe Diaz
Music: Cristian Bettler, Max Soussan
Narrator: Martin Sheen
Editor: Tom Von Doom
Not rated, 104 minutes