The Floating Tomatoes – Documentary

The fisherman stands on their wooden boats and wraps one leg around the oar and they propel the boat by swinging that leg wide while dragging the oar through the water. It is almost dance like, one needs to be skilled at balancing on one leg and gracefully row the boat.

Like the farmer in the film, more than 100,000 people earn their livelihood by growing tomatoes in Inle Lake’s floating gardens. To grow the tomatoes the farmers like the their counterparts on the land, use large quantities of fertilizers, four different kinds of pesticide, insecticide and fungicide and obviously all of it gets right into the water.

“When I first saw how they mixed the pesticides to spray on the tomato plants I was shocked because I was dizzy even though I was shooting video from nine feet away. So I was wondering just how strong the pesticide are,” explained the director.

“When they grow tomatoes they use pesticides and fertilizers, which cause chemical contamination and water pollution. Firstly, the person spraying the pesticides will be affected, secondly, the pesticide run-off goes directly into the lake, affecting all the people who dwell there, and finally, the customers eating the tomatoes will be affected by the pesticides,” he added.

Most of them are aware that the water is unsafe for drinking but use it for everything else and handle the chemicals with bare hands. I cannot imagine the toxins in their bodies and the environmental impact of this practice. But at the same time, the words of the farmer still echo in my head, “I don’t know what things have contaminated the water but our lives, our hopes and our family rely on this tomato”.

The people just don’t know what else to do. It is a vicious cycle, the fertilizers in the water decrease the fish population and so the farmers rely more on the tomato crop and use more chemicals for greater yield which further decreases the fish and hence they can’t make money fishing. The film left me wanting to know more about what can be done. Can the people be taught organic or natural farming practices, or taught another vocation.

The Floating Tomatoes is Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s second documentary. His first called Human Zoo documented the lives of the Padaung ethnic group living in Namb Swe Village, Thailand, which is a major lure for tourist who must pay to enter the village. The documentary was broadcast on Thai television.

His latest documentary took much longer to complete because of the preparation and trust-building required to get close to his subjects. “It takes a long time to find a suitable main character. Some people would be ideal as a main character based on their circumstances and life but they may not wish to speak with us so we can’t use them,” he said.

Building trust with the people being documented can take a long-time, which often results in much longer production periods for documentary films when compared to entertainment films, which are often shot over a period of a few weeks. “The Intha, who live around Inle do not trust people from outside of their village so we had to build trust with them to begin with,” explained the director, “we took one year to finish the documentary.”



sources: by Nuam Bawi

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