Documentary: First World vs. Third World

Adelin capturing Rwanda I am the Third World. I am a product of the so-called Developing World. I am from the most disclosed, marginalized parts of modern-day societies. We know we were never meant to count. We know our stories are but a footnote in global history. I see my light and presence in this discourse–however such conversations are limited. It’s now time that I turn my work’s attention to it. No matter how I build my résumé or the connections I make along the way or the added credits to the list in my growing, budding career here in the United State of America I must continue. No matter the luxuries at home, the car I drive, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the compensation rendered from my employer or the perishable and non-perishable things I consume as a consumer I must evolve. I must continue and evolve to and through Third World narratives.

I am from the ignorable Third World. Look into my eyes. See what I see. Understand my heart’s desire. It beats for the forgotten, the ignored, the marginalized, the “less interesting”. In my voyage in the wild terrain of the documentary film world–in the midst of its varying niche markets and obscure realities–I see only the plight of the colonized mind, despotism in its most salient form, poverty in its most corporeal. Subject matter for documentary work in this perspective comes with a sharp focus toward realism–a probing if not piercing approach to the kind of elements of human survival–food, clothing, shelter and security. As I utilize my talent and determination toward a semblance of relevancy I must engage in this approach to subject and story. This can be deeply overwhelming–almost God-intertwined.

Adelin in Burundi

For me the so-called Third World is non-ignorable. I am no longer hypnotized by the amenities and products of the First World. I cannot buy it nor sell it–in form or substance or even in theory and practice. Its lifestyle and milieus no longer pull me in. There is an inherent contradiction in its form. It reeks of the kind of hypocrisy and brutality only conjured up in Hollywood-esque movie plots.  But, refugees, the Diaspora, exiles, and expatriates are all the voices of my Third World experience. As a product from these marginalized and close-out regions of the world I can no longer ignore their issues nor their echoes. They scream in time of war. They whisper in time of quiet totalitarian rule. My documentary film work must lean heavily into this terrain–with honesty and sagacity. To take my experiences and accomplishments of constructing top-notch quality work here in the First World and establish it through a film thesis of Third World subject matter is vital if I am to ever take myself seriously as a filmmaker.

Netflix’s Virunga, Roaul Peck’s film Fatal Assistance, and even The Square documentary by Jehane Noujaim are Third World projects done and disseminated for a First World audience. They allow the voices to story-tell with little to no filter. They are not foolish to place an omniscient narrator who understands their plight and “speaks” to the film’s audience about this Other World. They don’t speak with sympathy but convey with empathy. Some were dangerous to complete. Some challenged the filmmakers to embark in unchartered territory to the world where some of the largest media outlets rarely tread outside the times of immediate crisis. Documentary films about the Third World are not for the Third World. It’s for the privileged audience member who in the midst of the over-saturation of media content in today’s seemingly-endless digital space chooses to glance for a moment at another world–a world so wantonly misunderstood. Without that push and lean toward entertainment the film that paints a powerful portrait of the Third World is didactic–food for thought, compelling–education with a thrill, and engrossing–informative if not captivating.  Stephanie Black’s searing documentary portrait Life and Debt that examines globalization’s negative effects on the country of Jamaica brought Western audiences into scenes of a disguised and marginalized reality. It captured moments of the exacting economic condition neoliberal programs have rendered on a developing island nation–and leaves a profound impact of vivid interpretation. They showed the other side in truth and reality. Condition is the perfect word that binds the directors and producers of documentary films to the niche audiences who imbibe in its storytelling work of art. Capturing conditions paints pictures. It exhibits. It renders. It ultimately delivers. Revealing condition brings life to characters. It molds narratives in simple, understood scenario-telling and shies away from the confusing and stereotyping.


There are plenty of spaces for these stories from Third World landscapes. Out of the pigeonhole, scapegoating mark that the Third World has been regulated to for decades these stories matter. These stories change perspectives. They open up minds. They make a difference in various venues–education forums, classrooms, lecture halls, festivals, and all other things in between. These films break through with an indelible mark. The interview soundbites from God Grew Tired of Us, the narration from Lumumba: The Death of a Prophet, the powerful cinematography in Waste Land, the voices mixed with somber music in Born into Brothels. Who can forget these works when one’s eyes are compelled to look at a different condition outside one’s realm of thinking and being? Who can negate the power of the visual component that delivers such emotion and contemplation?

The Third World isn’t caught up in privileges, or consumer products.  They are not juxtaposed in the global space to sell things for matters of convenience. They lack what the First World very often takes for granted. But they know. They know where they stand in the overall global power scheme. They know what was stolen from them. They know how they were scattered and pillaged, confounded and deflated. But, the Westerners don’t know. The generations that follow Western civilizations don’t know–because they are rarely on the ground in the Developing World. Their planes from the Developed World fly with ease pass them. These documentary film works bring them right on the ground. They walk with them. They talk to them.Adelin at home in Rwanda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *