Documentary Film Review: Living on One Dollar

Living on $1

Tonight I watched a documentary called Living on One Dollar. (Available to watch free on YouTube) The film was a student project featuring four American college students who spend 8 weeks in a poor rural village in Guatemala. During their eight week stay, the guys live on $1 per person per day while growing a crop of radishes. They use only what they had or could buy, and they divide up their summer’s worth of money in a random fashion to simulate the unpredictable finances of the poor, many of whom are day laborers, working when they can and suffering when they can’t.

On the downside, the film’s production values are far from perfect, especially in regards to sound. The film is just one hour long, and there are areas that could have been greatly expanded to make it feature-length. But keep in mind that it’s a student project, and as such it is actually very well done. My only small problem with the project itself is that the guys did not seem very prepared; they lacked knowledge about the agricultural practices they wanted to try. I know that in the developing world you can’t just google how to do something (although cell phones and internet are becoming more and more prevalent around the world), but the locals would have had information and experience that was passed down to them from their parents and a lifetime of experience in the local environment and economy. These Americans did not have that, and they could have used the internet to better simulate that familiarity.

But those are small details. Over all I thought the film was very well done. These guys really got their hands dirty and experienced life in rural Guatemala in a fairly realistic way. They scrimp and ration, go hungry, and come to appreciate the small things, like having enough to include bananas in their diet. They learn some valuable tricks from friendly locals, like how to increase their caloric intake by adding lard to their rice and beans. They attempt to take out a loan from a traditional bank and fail, using that as an opportunity to talk about the role of community support and microfinance through Grameen Bank.

About two or three weeks into their stay, a local boy invites them to come and visit his school. Here we see the guys absolutely light up as they talk, laugh, and play with the local kids. But back at their house in the village, it leads to a hard discussion about why some of the kids don’t go to school. One local boy who befriends them is Chino, a 12-year-old whose family cannot afford to send him to school and whose labor is needed to support his family. In many parts of the world, children are only educated if their family can afford the required school fees, supplies, and sometimes uniforms. Families often have to choose which of their kids to educate, if they can afford to send any. This lack of educational opportunity stunts economic development in families, communities, and nations.

I risk giving away too much, so I’ll stop here. But do see this movie. It’s only an hour long, it’s free to watch on YouTube, and it’s a great story of more than poverty and problems; it’s about people, community, and opportunity.

Have you seen Living on One Dollar? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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