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August 10, 2009 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

A Blooming Business


Documentaries about how people in third-world countries are oppressed and maltreated by Western society generally are a dime a dozen these days. No matter how pertinent and important each one undoubtedly is, it’s not hard to feel weary and indifferent towards each new one—all earnest and powered by pure outrage and heartbreak.

A Blooming Business is no different, and this is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing, because Dutchman Ton van Zantvoort’s documentary on the downright heinous practices carried out in the flower farms on the edge of Lake Naivasha in Kenya deals with as important a subject as any other documentary of this type. Van Zantvoort relies primarily on first-hand accounts of the way the flower farms treat their workers and destroy the surrounding community and ecology, interspersed with oddly poetic images illustrating those points, to make his point that the horrific practices of these flower farms need to be cracked down on, lest they take everyone down with them.

However, it’s also a bad thing. When compared to other documentaries of this type, it becomes clear where the deficiencies lie. Van Zantvoort fancies himself as a visual poet rather than a documentarian. He says as much on the promotional materials for the film. This is clear in that his methods are nowhere near as thorough as they should be. He squanders his best resource—flower farm worker Pete, who risked his life to take video footage of the inside of the farms—by relegating him to a couple of short scenes. He completely fails to follow up a theory put forward by a Worker’s Rights advocate in the area that the approved farms are ‘outsourcing’ to the unapproved ones. But, most importantly, van Zantvoort completely fails to provide a link between the Western world’s flower market—symbolised by the largest flower market in the world in the Netherlands—and these flower farms. There’s no target for our unfettered outrage on our end of things. No supermarket chain, no specialist flower store, no faceless corporation. Instead, van Zantvoort expects us to direct our anger at a few unnamed flower farms in Kenya. It’s disappointing, and makes what is an otherwise great documentary a little ineffective.

That’s not to say A Blooming Business isn’t worth seeing. However, when so many other documentaries are making the same point much better, it does feel a tad redundant.

A Blooming Business
Directed by Ton van Zantvoort


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