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An Eco-Nightmare of Global Proportions

BU marine biologist on Africa’s fish-for-guns trade


Globalization takes many forms — from American companies building customer call centers in India to outsourced manufacturing jobs to cultural exchanges via YouTube. Next week, the Coolidge Corner Theatre will present yet another face of globalization, the story of a gruesome chain of events that has spread from the banks of Africa’s Lake Victoria.

On Monday, March 17, as the latest installment in its Science on Screen series, the theater will show the 2005 documentary Darwin’s Nightmare by Hubert Sauper. The film, shot in Tanzania, is about a booming and bloody trade spawned by an environmental disaster. In the 1960s, Nile perch was experimentally introduced into Lake Victoria. The invasive fish, a voracious predator, destroyed many of the lake’s native fish species. These days, Nile perch fillets are exported around the world, hauled away in Russian cargo planes, often in exchange for guns and ammunition used by militants in the region’s various armed conflicts.

Darwin’s Nightmare will be introduced with a short lecture by Les Kaufman, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of biology and associate director of the Boston University Marine Program, who has studied the biology and fisheries of Lake Victoria since 1989 and was one of the film’s chief scientific advisors.

“I hope to drive home a point that the film doesn’t really get at,” says Kaufman, who researched the several hundred fish species that live only in Lake Victoria, “and that is that the welfare of the people is really dependent on the ecological health of the lake, and that is tied up with the survival of these tiny fish that nobody seems to care about except scientists.”

The Science on Screen series, which matches scientists from academia and industry with movies that raise scientific questions, is in its third year. It was founded by local entrepreneur Richard Anders, managing director of Rubin/Anders Scientific, a consulting firm that helps match investors and entrepreneurs with scientific experts.

Anders’ idea was an easy sell for Elizabeth Taylor-Mead, associate director of the Coolidge Corner Theatre and a former documentary filmmaker whose work includes films on science. “I am really interested in the idea that science can be done in an entertaining way and still raise real questions,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be dry and just something that’s good for you.”

Taylor-Mead and her colleagues at the theater helped bring the series to life through fundraising and partnerships with Boston’s Museum of Science and New Scientist magazine. The movies are selected in brainstorming sessions that include Anders, Taylor-Mead, and other theater administrators, and speakers are drawn from Boston’s many academic institutions as well as from industry.

“We try to mix it up,” says Taylor-Mead. A number of recent films have been paired with talks by BU professors, including Robert Weller, a CAS professor and chair of anthropology, who introduced The Man Who Fell to Earth last November, and Michael Baum, a CAS professor of biology, who last month discussed his research on the science of attraction before a screening of Body Heat, starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.

Darwin’s Nightmare is really about how the world is changing dramatically now,” Taylor-Mead says. “It’s really a wake-up call. And the more wake-up calls the better. Maybe one day we’ll wake up.”

Les Kaufman’s lecture and the screening of Darwin’s Nightmare begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 17, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline. Tickets are $9.75 for general admission and $7.75 for students and Museum of Science members. Admission is free for Coolidge Corner Theatre members.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.


4 Comments on An Eco-Nightmare of Global Proportions

  • Anonymous on 03.14.2008 at 7:29 am

    Reinforcing the wrong message

    Mr. Berdik,

    While I am pleased to see information about the film Darwin’s Nightmare in BU Today, I am somewhat perplexed as to why you included these particular images to illustrate your synopsis. I realize these images appear on the Darwin’s Nightmare web site as well, but by selecting only these two images, I feel you are reinforcing a stereotype, that Africans are savages (shirtless children, one of whom appears to be experiencing some kind of agonized rage). Why not use a picture of the journalists themselves or show whom I assume is the Russian pilot pictured http://www.darwinsnightmare.com/darwin/html/startset.htm. Aren’t they just as much a part of this film? You also never mention in your brief synopsis that the film was shot in Tanzania. Instead, although you mention Lake Victoria several times, you talk about Africa as if it’s a country. My 6-year-old daughter knows that Africa is a continent. When someone makes blanket statements to her about Africa, she usually follows up with, “What country?” I think you might want consider including a bit more context and objective content the next time you review a film for readers who might not know any better; who knows, maybe you’ll actually teach someone something.

  • Martha on 03.14.2008 at 8:40 am

    It´s great to see Les Kaufman in action!!!

  • Anonymous on 03.14.2008 at 2:07 pm

    Wrong Message?

    This article does say that it takes place in Tanzania…

  • trade forex on 07.21.2008 at 2:15 am

    It’s really very informative for sure. Les Kaufman will surely make the difference to change the current circumstances.

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