Sundance Film Festival 12: Payback

This film by the eminent Canadian documentarian Jennifer Baichwal illustrates what a successful transfer from book to screen can be like, particularly in documentary form. The producer, Ravida Din, like many of the audience present, is an admirer of Atwood’s work, as is Ms. Baichwal, and it shows: Payback captures not just the scope and rigor of Atwood’s book, but also, her Atwood-ness.

The documentary captures Margaret Atwood’s wit, humor, wryness and seriousness. One great device in the film is the interspersed clips of her in her element, writing, reading, and editing a speech on the nature of indebtedness. Her precise, clipped voice-overs unite the disparate stories; more important, it made for a delicious experience to watch Atwood, hear Atwood, and to be, shall we say, living in an Atwood text. Is it meta-Atwood? Atwood in 3D? The subject matter, moreover, is arguably ‘very Atwood.’ The essential nature of debt, and its similarity to language as a social construct, is a timely question. Debt, in all its forms, especially the non-financial, is a wonderful contemporary framework through which to view seemingly intractable issues such as blood revenges, environmental destruction, and social justice.

With poignant appearances by the public critic Raj Patel and the Coalition of the Immokalee Workers.

Payback is an official entry in the World Documentary category.

Payback. Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. Zeitgeist Films, 2011.