Filmed in Gunjur, Gambia, Stolen Fish follows a steady stream of workers, carrying boxes of fish from the shore to awaiting factories. To an outsider it could seem like an honest living, back straight, pace steady, making the journey back and forth. But, hearing from three locals, one quickly learns of the heartbreaking absence that permeates this portside community.

Avoiding fancy maps or infographics, we learn about Africa’s smallest country from Abou, who knows his home like the back of his hand. He draws its outline in the sand and explains the migration of the fish that makes up his livelihood. But, as the title implies, the fruit of the sea reaped by its natives is stolen. Instead of those who have thrived upon it for sustenance over generations, it is ground up to make fishmeal (used for fertiliser and animal feed). 

“Only when the factory’s stomach is full can we get any fish” – Mariama

Overfishing has a domino effect, not just on the environment, but without enough money to be made locally, Gambian men go “the backway” towards Libya, in search of passage to Europe. Not only have fish been stolen; but the youth – the prides of their families – feel pressure to provide and are willing to die for prosperity far from home. 

Within just half an hour, you catch a glimpse of the void left behind: in a mother enduring daily pain to carry hundreds of fish, always working, not even stopping to tell her story. To a father, helplessly watching the trauma of his son – who is haunted by torture and prison – but is still ready to relive it than remain home as a burden. 

Stolen Fish frames its argument with statistics, opening with a Greenpeace conference to discuss legal reform tackling the government’s complacency in allowing Chinese and European investors to destroy the country. It carefully connects these jargon-filled discussions with the real-life knock-on effects: a highly irregular migration rate from a country starving, while their food feeds the animals of the rich. 

However, the main characters aren’t these polished, multi-lingual activists (or ones who probably speak the languages of the Western audience) but Abou, Mariama and Paul. They are the ones who have to suffer, with broken backs and broken hearts, unseen and unheard by the businessmen who devastate their country. This sadness and anger speaks far louder than any number. As the camera pans away to show the line of men and women just like them on this continuous trek, we can only begin to comprehend how heavy their heads are. The weight of this collective trauma is voiced by a rap, each line cutting through the serenity, adding a new medium of rage to a film that will leave you seething and frustrated. 

There’s so much to worry about in the world but Stolen Fish is a 30 minute microcosm of what is wrong with it, eloquently put by those who take the brunt of the destruction caused by global capitalism. 

Rating: ★★★★

Directed by: Gosia Juszczak

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