Year after year, impoverished farmers leave northern Bangladesh for the south to work at the ship-breaking yards for scrapped ocean liners. They toil away under the toughest conditions imaginable and often wait in vain for wages far too meager for the work they perform.
The country can no longer feed its people. Monsoon rains, droughts and erosion force rice farmers in northern Bangladesh to confront insurmountable economic challenges. They have no other choice but to go in search of work in the south. Their employers are clearly fully aware of this – there can be no other explanation for the appalling conditions the northern farmers are forced to submit themselves to. The first thing that stands out is the total lack of safety gear. Workers walk across mountains of rusty, sharp-edged iron with no safety shoes. They drag huge slabs of iron around and pull heavy steel ropes through the sludge barefoot and with their bare hands. They wear neither hardhats nor goggles – not even when using blowtorches.
The incomprehensible lack of the most minimal safety measures gives viewers a true sense of the workersf plight. The camera is right in the thick of it, as if endeavouring to replicate the experience of a wage slave. It borders on the miraculous that there havenft been more injuries here. The closing credits explain that conditions at the PHP shipyard in the film (PHP stands for gPeace, Happiness and Prosperityh) are quite good, in comparison to other ship-breaking yards in the Bay of Bengal.
One must fully appreciate these physical conditions in order to understand why these workers can muster neither the strength nor the courage to unite and fight against their circumstances. The system of exploitation works with an almost perfidious simplicity. The northerners do the dirty work and the southerners as a whole appear to benefit from it. They have the better jobs, as supervisors, foremen, subcontractors and, above all, they earn money by selling food. The longer the already wretched slaves must wait for their wages, the more they must survive on loans – and their employers use these debts as an excuse to withhold wages, claiming that the money must go directly to the food merchants.
Shaheen Dill-Riaz observes closely and trusts in what he reveals. In this way he can entirely forgo polemics (in the montage, for example). gThe unfathomable working conditions we see in the film were not what surprised me the most; it was the management structures that drove people into an often fatal debt trap. What I find even more shocking is the fact that the rules of this system of exploitation are based on the fundamental principles of the economic system we are all a part of. IRONEATERS shows exactly where that can lead.h (Shaheen Dill-Riaz)
IRONEATERS won the 2007 Grand Prix award at the Festival International Du Film DfEnvironnement in Paris. It also won the 2007 Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film at the South Asia Film Festival in Kathmandu, and first prize in the 2007 Eine-Welt-Filmpreis NRW.
The screening is in partnership with Goethe-Institut Prague.