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H-2 WORKER

USA, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Documentaries)

Director: Stephanie Black

From the first pan across a palm-studded Jamaican landscape, Stephanie Black's feature length documentary. H-2 Worker, is stunning in its tone of calm, steady determination. H-2 Worker is a portrait of the brutal exploitation of Jamaican workers, 10,000 of whom are brought to the United States each year as "temporary" (read seasonal) workers to cut sugar cane. The workers have to harvest cane for the federally subsidised Florida sugar cane industry, their coveted temporary "H-2" visas allowing them to be flown to Florida, exploited for six months, and sent back to Jamaica each year with little to show in actual earnings. The cycle is annual, the working conditions abhorrent - as Black, filming clandestinely within the workers' barracks and on their cane fields, shows with piercing clarity.

What is most striking about the documentary is its beauty. Cinematographer Maryse Alberti (who also shot Poison and The Golden Boat) observes the terrain and the men toiling upon it, unearthing a kind of "horrible beauty" in the contrast between these men, their lot, and their surroundings. Instead of detracting from the powerful political message of the film, the cinematography resonates with themes parallel to the main storyline of political and economic exploitation - themes of alienation, exile and loneliness.

H -2 Worker may give the impression of being a "small" film on a specific political subject, which is in a sense it is, but it has a breadth that belies its own intentions. Through a subtle mixture of adroit editing, vital subject matter, and, quite simply, determination, H-2 Worker rises above its genre. Black has a gift for listening - both visually and aurally - to what she is filming. This is worth seeking out - (Adapted from) Jason Kiiot Cineaste.

Director's Note "The film was made over the course of three years without the permission of the sugar industry. In the end, the film has been seen by a broader audience than ever imagined- screened both in Congress and Cannes. This year's start of yet another harvest season brings with it the scrutiny of new-found monitoring eyes. - Stephanie Black

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