The fight over health care in America revolves around whether the well being of a country’s citizenry is a basic right or just another Capitalist dividing line between the hardworking haves and the lazy have-nots. Activist and documentary filmmaker Turk Pipkin takes that brain twister many steps further and, in his follow-up to 2006’s Nobelity, provides an answer. He believes that access to water, nutrition, education, health care, opportunity, shelter and peace is a basic human right that transcends government. And in his gentle manner, he presents an inspiring array of altruistic folks on multiple continents who are currently bringing hope to millions of Third World poor. It’s a sad fact that a documentary about helping people won’t perform as well as a documentary about those same people getting napalmed in some ill-advised war. It’s sadder still that if there were enough people interested in a documentary like this, we wouldn’t need a documentary like this. So Pipkin’s film is one for the converted, although a bait-and-switch on Blockbuster night could result in some unlikely conscripts joining his worthy cause.
Pipkin liberally applies the dispiriting statistics, but he’s not laying a guilt trip. His tone is positive and hopeful, elevating One Peace at a Time from other docs that try to motivate using alarmist rhetoric, smug sarcasm or scare tactics. Racking up serious frequent flyer mileage, the lanky, Q-tip haired Texan introduces us to the usual saintly suspects like South African cleric Desmond Tutu and green-promoting pot enthusiast Willie Nelson. But he predominantly focuses on the unsung heroes of the movement to improve living conditions for the estimated one billion people barely surviving their squalid conditions. There are two ways to decrease the worldwide poverty rolls: the first is to lessen the amount of people living in poverty-stricken areas, which takes us to Thailand and Mechai Viravaidya, known locally as the Condom King. Viravaidya works out of his store, called Cabbages and Condoms, and he sometimes stands in traffic passing out prophylactics in a program cheekily called Cops and Rubbers. The other way to reduce poverty is to improve living conditions. This requires a multi-pronged attack and Pipkin lines up the troops, starting with Philip Berber’s organization A Glimmer of Hope. In the film’s most inspirational passage, Berber provides a clean well to an Ethiopian village so no one has to drink water infested with parasites. And as Berber and Pipkin note, the easy availability of clean water has a trickle down effect, since the girls who spend six hours a day hauling jugs can now attend school. From there, Pipkin travels to rural Kenya, where classrooms are literally made from sticks, including the seats and the desks. In Ethiopia, students sit on rocks and schools are outdoors, hardly a conducive learning environment in the midday heat. Happily, nascent access to the Internet is giving some youngsters hope for a better education and, as a bonus, career options in the computer field. So Pipkin doesn’t skimp on the big picture problems. In fact, the movie is really just a laundry list of global issues and a suggestion of remedies. He’s not here to profile the locals. He’s here to enlighten, motivate and talk shop about the biggest worldwide ills, including the lack of food in Third World nations. There are currently one billion people considered to be living in hunger. Six million children die of hunger every year. Cracking this nut is a gargantuan task and Pipkin suggests multiple solutions, including Food for Work programs, the microfinancing of small businesses and the reduction of subsides for fuel made from food crops.
Whether meandering around his Texas home with his family or navigating Third World rough spots, Pipkin makes for a sincere tour guide. He looks like an outsider wherever he goes, and he gets some heartbreaking shots of African slums and people dressed in rags and living amongst garbage. But his attitude is never inappropriately chipper. He knows what we’re up against. Stressing the ease of many of his solutions is an attempt to defuse any viewer’s feeling of impotence. Getting people to follow up on what he’s proposing is another matter, since it’s tempting to retreat into the self-fulfilling prophecy that one person can’t impact something so large and so far away. Pipkin’s other barrier is that his health care advocacy and mention of global warming will instantly turn off Fox News viewers, neocons, Tea Partiers, birthers, Minutemen and those claiming to be all five. And many Conservatives will tsk-tsk Pipkin’s visit to Norway where a treaty signing will end the use of cluster munitions whose unexploded submunitions can be mistaken for toys by local youths, sometimes with tragic results (the United States didn’t sign the treaty). Indeed, Pipkin is fighting a rancid political climate, laziness and powerlessness (which is sometimes a cover for laziness). Yet he’s a unique voice trying to whisper over the din of an increasingly busy and distracted culture. It’s a challenge, but he does have one killer card to play: he’s right.
Distributor: Monterey Media
Director/Screenwriter: Turk Pipkin
Producer: Matt Naylor
Running time: 83 mins
Release date: October 21 ltd.