Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Back in the ‘80s, Nicaragua was the Left’s cause célèbre. It seemed that half of downtown Toronto’s cultural scene had traveled to Managua to work with the Sandinistas, led by Daniel Ortega, who had overthrown the dictator Somoza and were trying to create a socialist paradise in Central America. Adding frisson to this real-life tale of a small band of revolutionaries creating idealistic change was the U.S. reaction: funding the right-wing “contras” with money derived from selling arms illegally to Iran, Ronald Reagan’s America was exposed as hypocritical during the trial of Oliver North.
The Sandinistas stayed in power until 1990 but even when they lost in a democratic election, Ortega’s party remained quite strong. 16 years passed, during which a much more conservative government encouraged foreign investment. “Yanqui dollars” returned, feeding the country’s economy much to the chagrin of Ortega’s vocal minority.
Canadian Julian T. Pinder arrived in Nicaragua during this period—before the elections of 2006. Land is a sardonic doc, which looks at the effect on Nicaragua of bringing back the imperialists after the revolution.
Sean Jackson, Fred Goldfarb and Chris Berry aren’t necessarily evil people but what they want to do appalls most Nicaraguans. These Americans and the less savoury Keith “Grief” Griffith want to create a Riviera in an area where the native Nicaraguans don’t even have electricity or running water. As luxury homes for foreigners start to be erected by Jackson, Berry and the rest, an election takes place. Unexpectedly, Ortega is finally re-elected President.
And—well—the Americans suddenly find that building permits are hard to obtain and land claims are being filed against them. Pinder records their reactions as they realize that the new Riviera isn’t going to happen. Some are philosophical. Two Americans—a hippie-like figure named Daniel and an old funky radical called “Sandino”—applaud the decline and fall of their richer brethren but understand that they are also hated for being “gringos.” Worse, “Grief” Griffith threatens violence; you know that his spiritual forebears had dominated this country and many others for centuries—nice enough if you don’t cross them but Lord help you if you do.
Pinder’s film is marked by lovely music ranging from string quartets to old Latin jazz. The film has a nice visual style; it’s almost painterly in its evocation of landscape and scenes. Best, Land ambles along to its own sweet, laconic pace.
At 76 minutes, this feature doc is hardly long. Land quietly shows you that imperialism exists in the post-modern tourist society of today. It may not justify Ortega’s slightly problematic return to power but the film relishes in the moments when a baseball diamond appropriated by the developers is returned to the village. Viva el beisbol. Viva Land.