Late in this documentary, a teacher-turned-fisherman makes a surprising observation while surveying the bleak landscape of a Tanzanian fishing camp, where a bloated, starving toddler strolls by the refuse-strewn water's edge. Maybe this is the law of the jungle, he says. Maybe we are weak and the Europeans are strong. They created the IMF and the World Bank. They eat the Nile perch.
Don't be surprised if you've never heard of this giant fish. The Nile perch is a favorite on European menus, and this may be one problem the United States isn't feeding on. The fish, considered one of the worst invasive species in the world, was introduced into Tanzania's Lake Victoria in the 1960s, where it has wreaked havoc on the indigenous fish. In that area, according to the documentary, it has combined with the AIDS epidemic to destroy many of the local communities.
"Darwin's Nightmare" is, like many contemporary documentaries, a narrationless piece, with only random questions by the people behind the camera interrupting a steady stream of interviews. We hear from many former villagers living a bleak existence dependent on the perch, including fishermen, prostitutes and their orphaned street children. We also hear from the pilots who fly the perch out to Europe in huge jets and, most interestingly, from an occasional teacher, artist or holy man, the fragmentary remnants of the disappearing former society.
"Darwin's Nightmare" conveys this sense of a dwindling future very well. The Nile perch is only one of many problems in Africa, but it is symbolic of social and environmental problems the world over. In fact, the film is able to show the bigger picture in a very interesting way, by demonstrating how human social and environmental systems live and die together. In the jungle, the strong survive. In a kinder world, the weak also have a place. In the kind of world many of the most wealthy are creating, there doesn't seem like much of a future for anyone. (NR) S