Welcome to Sodom
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
Filming the largest electronic waste dump in the world at Agbogbloshie, Accra in Ghana – revealingly named “Sodom” – Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes provide us with astonishing images: a toxic landscape of gifted waste that is constantly laboured upon by free workers of all ages who recycle the valuable and worthwhile metals and burn the useless plastics. There is an apocalyptic beauty in these appalling images of waste and fire, which actually constitute only the framework for the variety of peoples and activities on which the filmmakers focus. Besides the work and the little businesses, we also discover a lively society where music and dance attempt to dispel the hellish miasma of death. A confused preacher with a newspaper for a microphone reminds of the punishment for Sodom and Gomorrah, while two quiet workers play golf on the carpet of waste and charred plastic. The women – often children – sell “pure” water and candies, an improvised cart shows off a Mercedes emblem, a gay Jewish worker reads Shakespeare and Chaucer…
Yet, the visual beauty and the curious diversions in Welcome to Sodom do not act as relief for us, but almost as sarcastic touches of desperate irony. The basic elements are subverted: the ground moves like rubber on swampy earth, fire produces black clouds of smoke, water is wasted to cool the metals – this is the hidden face of our technology consumerism. Some people still find this hell an attractive place: the risks notwithstanding, the opportunity for small businesses remains interesting and, moreover, Sodom is seen as a place of freedom, a no man’s land. When the price of freedom looks like this nightmare, and with Ghana still considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, one cannot but deduce a catastrophic situation concerning the distribution of wealth.
If the Sakawa voodoo rituals inform us of the levels of despair of people for whom death is an occasional outcome of money games, the documentary still gathers pearls of hope from this ocean of trash, insofar as it collects the wishes and imagination of the people living in Sodom: migrating, becoming an astronaut, finding a tolerant place for homosexuals, learning languages. For this, the use of the voice-over creates a crucial distance, like a safe bubble for witnesses in the middle of a panorama without horizons. In this same vein, the exceptional music played by the locals emerges equally as a decisive layer of Welcome to Sodom, and transmits a contagious positive energy. Thus, the last word of the film is spoken by a powerful song, which is placed at its end as a very long coda, as if seeking deliverance. (GDS)
Screenings in Swiss cinema theatres