Documentary is set on a wasteground for the world’s electronics outside Accra, Ghana
Dirs. Florian Weigensamer, Christian Krönes. Switzerland/Germany/Austria. 2018. 92 mins.
Agbogbloshie is a wetland outside Accra, the capital of Ghana, and a dumping site for the world’s unwanted electronics that really does look like hell on earth. The 6,000 men, women and children who live here – amongst the emaciated goats and grazing cattle - call it Sodom, after the Biblical town to which God laid waste with fire and brimstone. Directors Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes roam between the never-endling blazes, designed to burn out copper, to the noise of constant hammering, flies and lifting filth, in a documentary which eschews easy categorisation. The camera delivers an industrial beauty in the apocalyptic landscape which exists only in its lens; a spirit amongst the people who lives there which exists only to be crushed.
Welcome To Sodom would prefer to impress visually than with facts.
Arresting imagery set to a vibrant rap-based soundtrack and a poetically-tinged narrative should help Welcome To Sodom navigate its way through international festivals, coupled with that catchy title. Commercial exposure is always tentative for a project set in such an extreme zone of human deprivation, but the fact this documentary isn’t as depressing as it should be is to the filmmakers’ lasting credit. There’s scant comfort to the resilience of the human spirit when it’s set in a place which is killing those humans faster than the proud Ghanains can scrape together enough copper wires to pay their way illegally to France and a “better life”.
Documentaries have been made before which are set on global dumping grounds where humans eke out a perilous living; few have looked this biblical (the sense of Armageddon is enhanced by footage – a little too extensive – of a preacher shouting about the horror, the horror). Dump trucks discharge loads of industrial wastage; old computer monitors, fridges, cars, printers, anything which might yield aluminium, copper or zinc to those scrabbling around in the filth with their home-made magnets or pounding away at chassis with crude mallets. Most are teenage or young adult males; you can practically see the corrosive dirt eating away at their organs. They make rap music to pass the time before they can “make it to Europe and be somebody”.
A young boy turns out not to be what he seems; a 42 year-old woman carries water packets on her head to sell to the boys who stoke the smelt. In turn, an educated gay Jewish man from Zambia picks up the empty water packets to fill and sell on. While some talk of opportunity, and some here are fleeing, the truth is, as the water-seller says, “this place eats up your life very fast”. The ground they walk on is – literally – insecure. It moves and squelches as the lagoon shifts under the weight of the world’s discarded electronic waste.
Welcome To Sodom would prefer to impress visually than with facts. A close-up of a chameleon starts the film, before a long panning shot around the dump. It ends with a rap performance. Both are admirably-shot sequences, amongst the cholera, malaria, and fetid discharge. And the sound is lively, both ambient and programmed. The puzzle is what co-directors Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes want us to take from these polished images; it certainly shouldn’t be admiration, and it’s definitely not hope; shame would be more appropriate.
Production Company: Blackbox Film & Medienproduktion
International sales: Syndicado Film Sales, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Christian Krönes, Roland Schrotthofer
Screenplay: Roland Schrotthofer, Florian Weigensamer
Cinematography: Christian Kermer
Editor: Christian Kermer
Music: Jürgen Kloihofer, Felix Sturmberger
Featuring: Kwasi Yefter, Awal Mohammed, Mohammed Abubakar, Sulemana Junah, Fauzia Mohammed, Musa Abukari aka D-Boy, David Berihun Cohen, Columbus John Osei