Danis Tanovic’s Tigers offers thought-provoking look into Pakistani food companies

The Oscar-winning Tanovic talks about the long journey to make his new movie, about a baby-milk scandal in Pakistan.
The director Danis Tanovic. Courtesy Diff
The director Danis Tanovic. Courtesy Diff

Tigers, the latest movie from the Oscar-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, is a thought-­provoking look at the activity of multinational food companies in Pakistan.

In particular, it references allegedly questionable marketing techniques, where mothers were encouraged to use infant formula instead of breast-feeding. But without access to clean water to dilute it, women using contaminated water would lead to many baby deaths.

The film is said to be based on the story of a former salesman who tried to reveal his company’s supposed practices and ended up essentially living as a refugee in Canada, separated from his family for seven years.

It’s a subject that Tanovic is passionate about, and which is not unique to the developing world.

“Just recently [it was reported that] doctors were sacked in Italy for this,” he says, referring to the arrest last month of 12 paediatricians for allegedly accepting extravagant gifts from baby-milk makers in return for prescribing formula.

“Kids aren’t dying in Italy, sure, but this is still happening all over the world. How do they get away with it? How do banks get away with what they do? The whole system is broken.

“You’ve got these doctors buying drugs from companies that just happened to take them to a seminar in Hong Kong last week. It’s a common thing.”

Although Nestlé is often cited in complaints about baby-milk marketing practices – and the company is referred to by name more than once – the film focuses on a fictional company called Lasta Vita.

For its part, Nestlé says on its website: “The events depicted in the film, which is set in the 1990s, seriously misrepresent the facts about our activities.

“They appear to be based on highly questionable allegations made in a report called Milking the Profits, published in 1999. The allegations in this report, and the events in the film, are not at all consistent with our policy and practices on the responsible marketing of breast milk substitutes, to which we are fully committed everywhere in the world.”

Tanovic said his approach with the film was to “focus on the problem, on corporate responsibility, on what it’s doing to the babies”.

The film’s path to the screen was not smooth. Tanovic says he was set to shoot in 2006, with the backing of the BBC, but it took a further eight years to finally make the film.

“The BBC pulled this story even though they’d sent people to check and it’s still happening,” he says. “They’d sent independent investigators and not only did they confirm the story, they said it’s even worse and brought us even more papers that we didn’t have – and still a month before shooting they pulled out.

“I’d spent nine months in Pakistan preparing for this film and it just fell apart.”

The battle to get the film made had an influence on the final script, which tells the story of a film crew struggling with legal obstacles to essentially make the very film the audience are watching, giving a self-referential explanation of the struggles Tanovic faced.

“The film crew in the film gives you a perspective on how people are dealing with it. Everybody’s afraid,” Tanovic says.

The movie is doing the festival rounds, and Tanovic says he hopes it will raise awareness of the issue and get journalists talking about it.

Ultimately though, he hopes for a cinema release.

“Hopefully we’ll eventually get to cinemas, but it’s so hard, he says. “You’re competing with Spider-Man 13 Kills Batman 16, which everyone wants to see.

“I myself wanted to make a Spider-Man film, but where I live we have only three high buildings and my film turned into a psychological drama because he’d jump from one to another and then go: ‘Where do I go now?’ It stops people from going because they’re thinking: ‘Spider-Man’s not good.’

“We’ll see about cinemas,” he says, returning to a more serious note. “It’s all speculation, but maybe one woman in Malaysia will somehow see this film and decide to breastfeed her child. How much is one life worth?”

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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