Today is christmas and I was thinking about the relationship between rich and poor, triggered by a phone conversation I had with Sujeylin last week. I am often afraid that I call her and she’ll tell me she’s not interested in the film anymore. It’s perfectly possible. I have been amazed so far by her stamina with this project, partly because we haven’t always been very forthcoming when she has indicated she needed or wanted something from us. It hasn’t always been quid pro quo.
There are several issues here, but they boil down to the subject of relative wealth. We don’t pay Sujeylin, although she does tend to benefit from having us around: she eats better, we buy medicine for Karla when needed, we drive her around when we’re not filming, that kind of thing. Anything more wouldn’t be ethically acceptable by documentary making standards. Hence there cannot be a relationship of dependence between subject and filmmaker… (although there always is)
So, considering she doesn’t get much out of it, I have been wondering why Sujeylin doesn’t say at some point: “Stop calling me! I’m not interested anymore.” Instead, every time I call, once every three weeks or so, she asks when I’ll be returning to Nicaragua… Why would she be so interested in that?
If she were to quit, her life would not change. Everything would stay as it is. Or so it seems to me. For me on the other hand, it would be dramatic. So I was thinking why she would still be interested, after having me come and bother her for over a year now. Or why she wouldn’t make better use of the fact that I need her to cooperate for at least another five months or so. And after giving it some thought, I have come to the conclusion that it’s a typical example of a situation where the apparent power-balance is not the same as the true one. Simply a matter of rich and poor.
She doesn’t negotiate much despite her knowing that I need her, that I am dependent on her. Even the littlest little things that we can do for her, are worth a lot to her. Probably more than I might think. Her economical boundary, between what she can afford and what she can’t, is so much lower than mine, that the relationship of dependence is greatly in my favor. It’s worth it to her that I’m around, when we are shooting – besides the distraction we offer, and that unique chance to tell her story, which is also important.
But it suddenly struck me that the one with the money is always likely to win. Not just in the relationship Koen-Sujeylin, but all over the world. It is in effect what keeps a lot of unbalanced relationships going: a carrot on a stick. It was just a thought I had, and it requires some more pondering I think (for it might sound simple and obvious, but it isn’t). It just suddenly struck me: the 20% who control the money are completely in control of the 80% who don’t. Whatever independence and empowering has been offered or arranged, if it doesn’t go hand in hand with healthy economics, it’s never going to work.