‘The Big Sellout’ and consequences for East and West

It’s only natural that the upheaval on international financial markets would at one point become subject matter for the cinema industry – in the documentary genre at least. In his documentary «The Big Sellout» (currently on screen at the Andora cinema in Athens), German director Florian Opitz observes the phenomenon of privatization around the world and the kind of effects that development has on people’s lives. Following an adventure in Nigeria, where research on his next film offended local authorities, resulting in his temporary incarceration, the 35-year-old director was recently in Athens. He spoke to Kathimerini about privatization in the global economy. How did you first get involved with this particular subject? I was quite angry, because in Germany there was a lot of publicity in favor of privatization, people talked about companies and services becoming more productive and cheaper when privatized. Looking at research, however, I knew that things were quite the opposite in the long run – five to ten years down the road. In Germany, there was no great interest, because people did not pay any attention to the consequences. The water supply in Berlin was privatized, for example. Rates were not allowed to go up in the first five years but after that prices shot up by 20 percent every year. I conducted some serious research at institutions and companies and was astonished to discover that there was no comprehensive review of the matter on a global level. So I chose a few case studies in various places around the world, preferably in areas where there had been some reaction from people. I traveled to these places, got in touch with goverment bodies, who, in turn, led me to the people who would become the story’s protagonists. It was a long research effort conducted in a scientific, rather than an emotional, way. How long did it take you? About four-and-a-half years. Every time I traveled to places like the Philippines, South Africa and Colombia, I had to spent a lot of time with the people who appear in the film, as well as members of associations. What really impressed me was the fact that it was the least educated people who understood the intricate mechanisms of economies and globalization. You present a few tough stories. Do you believe there is still some humanity left in this world? Most of these stories have a human side to them. I wanted to leave a positive impression and I believe that cases, such as that of the Bolivian people who prevented the privatization of water, give this sort of example, without necessarily turning into a Hollywood-style happy end. I believe in the power of information and news and what is really disappointing is that although there are more media than ever, we don’t delve any deeper into the news beyond the headlines. Do you see any changes in the way people perceive things today? No one seemed to care when I was filming. Things are changing now, at least in Germany. There is more discussion on solidarity and an emphasis on social welfare. Even the scientists of the Club of Rome who studied 250 privatized companies reached the conclusion that while a lot needs to be done in order to improve the public sector’s efficiency, at the vast majority of privatized companies, the results were negative for the public.

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