Hot Docs 2014: The Malagasy Way – Documentary Review

Director: Nantenaina Lova
Country: France and Madagascar
Rating: G
Runtime: 84 min

In today’s North American society, it is difficult to imagine living almost entirely without the production of waste. This fantastical feat can be accomplished, however, as the people of Madagascar demonstrate in director Nantenaina Lova’s new documentary The Malagasy Way. In this highly visual film, an entirely foreign way of life is revealed and examined in an interesting and integrative manner. The film aims to instruct, and it can be hoped that an audience will be open to receiving and considering its commendable ideas.

The Malagasy Way

In The Malagasy Way, a small community in Madagascar hopes to teach Western superpowers a lesson in how to live resourcefully and waste-free.  These people truly do take recycling as we know it to a whole new level: old tires become sturdy shoes, burnt out light bulbs are transformed into oil lamps, and scrap metal is fashioned into wheelbarrows. Few materials are readily available, so whatever can be obtained is used to its fullest potential. Each enterprise appears to be a family business, which is a large focus of this community as well, and the camera travels from family to family, introducing the audience to each livelihood. The film is full of ancient proverbs and hidden truths, and each individual takes the time to demonstrate as well as to explain their innovative job.

Since this film exhibits a simple way of life, it is appropriate that it utilizes a simple filming style as well. The camera seems to become a member of the society, observing and experiencing, and the audience receives the impression that they are a part of the people as well. Pleasant scenery is interspersed throughout the documentary, and a taste of local music adds a splash of colour and fun. The film is bookended by scenes of a poetic young man who expresses his desire to teach and the importance of preserving culture. This introduction and conclusion effectively set the stage for the film and then wrap it up in a manner that feels direct and instructive.

The Malagasy Way

At the premier screening of this film that I attended at Hot Docs 2014, soft-spoken director Nantenaina Lova appeared excited to present this carefully crafted film. Each job and daily task within this film is shown to be vitally important to the community, yet each is also very unlike the hustle and bustle to which we, the audience, have become accustomed. This juxtaposition forces an audience member to rethink and reconsider our way of life and our hierarchies of priorities. Perhaps it is possible that we can learn a thing or two from these simple yet stunningly creative individuals who are eager to introduce us to  “the Malagasy way.”