Review of the Documentary Living on One Dollar. 2013. By Chris Temple, Zach Ingrasci, Sean Leonard, and Ryan Christofferson.
[Film poster from: http://uocal.uottawa.ca/en/node/11166 ]
Poverty. One dollar a day. Microfinance. Malnutrition. These words are used frequently during conversations about global poverty and international development. But what do these words really mean? What do they look like in real life? College students Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple set out on a mission to find out for themselves. In their documentary Living on One Dollar, Ingrasci and Temple, along with two film students, agree to live on one dollar a day—internationally accepted as the extreme poverty line—in Pena Blañca, Guatemala, a small village where many people work as farm laborers for about a dollar a day. The team documents their attempt to live as authentically as possible on their meager income for 52 days, while also researching how their neighbors survive and plan their finances with so little to work with.
What a photographer’s micro lens is to his wide-angle shot, this documentary is to overarching discussions of poverty and development. The producers take us for a close, intimate look at how poverty plays out in the lives of real people. Malnutrition, lack of money for education and health care, lack of clean water, and lack of savings in case of disaster: these are the challenges that living on one dollar a day presents.
As Temple and Ingrasci embed themselves in village life and make friends, we begin to see these challenges come to life. Inquisitive, friendly, twelve-year-old Chico, has resigned himself, already, to a life as a farm laborer—working long, hard hours for an income that will barely sustain his family in the future. We meet Rosa, who has to defer her dream of attending school because there isn’t enough money for school fees. Such stories abound, but the film presents reasons to hope. The students explore how gaining access to credit and a savings plan via microfinance banks can aid families in earning more income. Rosa utilizes this type of system and is able to pay her school fees so she may continue to study. Additionally, Temple and Ingrasci stumble upon a unique way of communal savings that their neighbors utilize, in which each member in turn benefits from the collective savings, which is substantially more than each would be able to save alone. This is one of the more ingenious ways of survival Temple and Ingrasci discover but not the only example.
Along with ingenuity, they find warmth, generosity, curiosity, hardship, misery—hard lives led by hardened, yet generous people. They also discover that living on one dollar a day is something they were not prepared for, nor is it a lifestyle they would like to continue. But the point of their experiment is clear: life at this income level is hard and dangerous. Ultimately, Living on One Dollar asks us to imagine what it would be like to not have enough food, to not have access to health care when ill, and to not have the money to send a child to school. The perspective and the individual stories the viewer experience are what make Living on One Dollar an educational and moving documentary.
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