Toilets Not Temples, a film by David Leonard and Will Benedict, mixes different styles of narrative storytelling such as live journal (rehearsing the breaking news over and over again), news anchor (reporting on catastrophes as if the reporter was reading lottery numbers), and rap video (does anyone ever listen to the lyrics?), only to mention the most important ones. These are wrapped in a (post)apocalyptic film narrative. A narrative that, despite the dominant trend in feature films that must have an end-of-times scenario, finishes with a five-minute scene of a jubilant crowd somewhere in India—celebrating the end of food shortage and the volunteers’ (who fall from the sky) success in containing a spread of giant rats.First and foremost, Toilets Not Temples deals with the distribution of food. In this process it makes a rather anecdotal, almost obscure connection between Norway—where I live—and India. I grew up in the Lofoten islands, Northern Norway, a place where the fish industry in the early seventies started using net pens (sic) to farm salmon. Lofoten is also the place for the world’s largest season-wise cod fishery. This activity has been going on for at least 600 years, and for the last 400 years most of the caught fish is dried or half dried, and sold to Italy or Portugal. Distribution has always been a problem. In the earlier times, fishermen would row in small, family-owned boats. But the production of dried cod was done by few companies. In years of fish shortage there was also food shortage for the families that lived from fishing, as they could not afford to buy food. The current Indian onion distribution faces a similar problem, it has remained unchanged for centuries, largely independent of modern methods. The Indian wine is portrayed as another problem, as Indians know little of wine. It is all about distribution of produced goods.
The post-apocalyptic, sci-fi part of Toilets Not Temples is established in the very beginning of the film. The film begins with a powerful, dynamic soundtrack and a shot that could just as well been the opening scene of a Hollywood a, b, c or d movie. We are in a high-rise, watching the city below through a large window. In the middle ground there is a silhouette of a man (logically darkened so that what’s outside the window does not burn out, a known quality of lens-based works). The soundtrack strongly suggests that something is about to happen. And it starts raining men. Hundreds, if not thousands of them. Most of the remaining post-apocalyptic parts of the film take place in relation to the news anchor who introduced a water shortage, a fictitious chemical compound (Metho Ciclo Hexa Methanal [MCHD]), tracking systems for fish (developed by KODE in Bergen), giant rats, and genetically-modified crows, endowed with human heads.
Large parts of the film play out as a journalistic piece with a twist. In an early segment we see the journalist reporting from vineyards in Nashik, India. At first everything is as expected. The journalist, emphatic and likable, informs us that we’re “not in northern California or South of France”, just before he stops talking and starts over. He then pauses, and tells his cameraman that this part will go to the sound bite. “This is in-between”, the journalist says, before being abruptly cut out of from the image, reappearing from the right to continue his story. This is to point out the creation of a narrative, which of course storytelling does. But, the in-between and the sound bite hint towards journalistic ethics, about contextualization and angle (of a piece). This is also visible elsewhere in the journalistic part of the film, e.g.the usage of eye witnesses/experts. These get only a few seconds, maybe half a minute, to cover their opinion. It’s impossible to cover all angles in depth during a normal journalistic piece, and the film points out the usage of easily adaptable, quick-fix, seemingly knowledge covering journalism. A strange and nice connection between the fictitious and the real appears in the woman with a dolphin head (might be seen as an alternative way to hide the identity of someone) and the above-mentioned genetically-modified crow with human head.
– The title of the film is paraphrasing a quote by Narendra Modi, India’s current Prime Minister, something he said during his campaign in 2013 (“build toilets first and temples later”).
– In his lecture “The Anthropocene as a potential new unit of the Geological Time Scale”, Jan Zalasiewicz argues for a new geological epoch where humans influence on earth (and thus nature) are uncontroversial. He points out that what we produce have a profound impact. Our impact on nature is larger now than ever before. In Toilets Not Temples the main focus is food, and the distribution of food.
434MB | 25mn 30s | 1280×720 | mkv