leave a comment --Ken Fox
In early March, 1999, Israeli filmmakers Adi Barash and Ruth Shatz were granted permission to board the ironically named trawler "The Spirit of Namibia" and, for the next 90 days, film the activities of the crew as they set about the backbreaking work of mining diamonds. The result is a gripping, 70 minute maritime nightmare worthy of Joseph Conrad. "The Spirit of Namibia" and its 38 member, multinational crew stays anchored a mile off the coast of Namibia in western Africa in what is known as the "Diamond Zone," a stretch of notoriously rough water tightly controlled by the all-powerful De Beers diamond syndicate. There, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the "Spirit" siphons diamonds off the ocean floor through a giant gravel pump. The trawler is a rusting hulk helmed by a mild-mannered, ineffectual Cuban captain but ruled by an Israeli martinet of a security officer who has no respect for or from either his blithely racist white South African officers or the shamefully overworked Namibian deckhands. They're a crew divided along both racial and national lines, sailing aboard a ship that's barely managing to keep afloat. The compressors aren't working, the water tanks are leaking the precious supply of fresh water, the gravel pump is clogged with sand and no one in the front office seems to care. Meanwhile, the bonds of civility have begun to corrode in the tense atmosphere aboard ship. One crew member accuses a deckhand of urinating on him from an upper deck; the white South African company supervisor admits he isn't terribly concerned about the conditions below deck because, after all, black Africans are used to eating roadkill; and the Namibians feel that, having finally won their independence from South Africa, they're still being forced to work like slaves in their own country. (While "The Spirit of Namibia" pulls in millions of dollars worth of diamonds a month, each deckhand is paid roughly $150 every four weeks.) Throughout, the ceaseless quest for diamonds grinds on as the glittering stones are picked from the silt and pebbles sucked up from the bottom of the sea and counted in front of a vigilant video camera. Barash and Shatz take a fly-on-the-wall approach, trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible as the crew members air their grievances and speak frankly about loneliness and the soul crushing boredom of it all. It's a documentary, but the filmmakers couldn't have scripted a more revealing microcosm of profiteering and exploitation.