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How Do Madagascar's People Get By on So Little? With Lots of Ingenuity

ady gasy

Screen capture of the trailer for “Ady Gasy”, a documentary on trying to make ends meet in Madagascar by Lova Nantenaina via YouTube

Madagascar has had a string of bad luck over the past few years. Its economy is still struggling to recover after being hit by repeated cyclones and political crises. The Malagasy population has grown accustomed to try to make ends meet in spite of daunting challenges.

Ady Gasy (The Malagasy Way) documents this way of life that is unique to Madagascar's culture and society. Rejecting the overconsumption that plagues the developed world, the film examines how the people of Madagascar have embraced a conservationist lifestyle of re-purposing and self-reliance in the midst of a global economic crisis, using ingenuity as their inspiration.

Despite Madagascar's endemic poverty, famine and flooding, the documentary, by up-and-coming filmmaker Lova Nantenaina, isn't seeking viewers’ sympathy. It rather focuses on how the Malagasy people have overcome their daily struggles, as seen through the eyes of a child (the main character of the documentary). Audiences and critics have given the film mostly positive reviews. French film critic Rémy Roche reports how the documentary displayed this ingenuity in great detail:

Ce que veut montrer Ady Gasy (prononcer as “Ad Gash”), du nom d'une expression commune là-bas: débrouillons-nous. Et il savent faire, pour survivre. Un briquet jetable ne se jette pas, il se répare et se recharge de gaz, de vieux pneus on fait de belles sandales inusables, on transforme une ampoule grillée en lampe à pétrole, des boites de conserves vides on fabrique des jouets

Ady Gasy (pronounced “ad gash”) is a common phrase here that means: finding a way. That is their thing, they know how to survive. A disposable lighter is not to be thrown, it must be repaired and re-filled with gas. Old tires are to be made into tough, beautiful sandals. A dead light bulb is transformed into an oil lamp and empty cans become handmade toys.

Scenes from the documentary Ady Gasy

Scenes from the documentary “Ady Gasy”

For Malagasies, it was crucial that the film give an accurate portrayal of the situation while avoiding presenting the citizens as victims. Kalabasivava, a Malagasy researcher residing in France, explains why:

C'est un vibrant hommage à la résistance et au courage d'un peuple longtemps abandonné et soumis à diverses contraintes extrêmement difficiles

It is a vibrant tribute to the strength and courage of a long-abandoned people, a population that has faced extremely difficult constraints with dignity

Watch the trailer below:

Tomavana, a Malagasy citizen who watched the world premiere of the documentary in Switzerland, was won over by the vision of the filmmaker:

Lova Nantenaina donne la parole au rocher sur laquelle la société malgache est solidement bâti: le peuple. Sans fard ni complaisance, le regard qu’il propose est une incursion dans le quotidien des « gens ordinaires » à Madagascar. Le spectateur est invité à cheminer au travers des dédales de ruelles, de quartiers qui abritent ces petits ateliers, autant de repères pour des petits métiers où la vie bouillonne et où l’espoir foisonne, un terreau fertile pour la résilience du peuple malgache.

Lova Nantenaina [the filmmaker] call on the foundation of the Malagasy nation: its people. Unvarnished and never complacent, his documentary is a foray into the lives of ordinary people in Madagascar. The viewer is invited to walk through the streets of various neighborhoods that are home to many small workshops, a typical set-up for small handicraft shops where life is buoyant and hope abounds. Those workshops are the seeding ground for the resilience of the people of Madagascar.

Lova Nantenaina at the projection of his film - with his permission

Lova Nantenaina at the premiere of his film. Used with his permission

Sandrine Marques, on her blog on Le Monde, adds that oral storytelling is an integral part of both Malagasy identity and the film:

De l'art oratoire pour conjurer la misère et célébrer les vertus de la solidarité. Voilà en quoi consiste l'argument de ce documentaire aussi humble que son sujet et qui nous montre les différentes facettes de la débrouille à Madagascar. L'expression « ady gasy » recouvre plusieurs sens dans la culture malgache et concerne autant les pratiques culturelles, culturales que médicinales.

Oral storytelling is one way to ward off misery and celebrate the virtues of solidarity in the country. That is the main argument of this documentary, which is as humble as the topic it is tackling. It shows us the different facets of resourcefulness in Madagascar. The term ady gasy has several meanings in the Malagasy culture; cultural and medicinal practices are an integral part of that ingenuity.

Surprisingly, it is worth noting that the Malagasy film industry is witnessing a creative boom in spite of the economic stalemate. Colin Dupre of INA Global explains this paradox:

Sur l’île rouge, il n’existe plus de salles de cinéma et aucune structure étatique n’est véritablement en mesure d’œuvrer pour le développement du secteur, faute de volonté politique, faute de financements… le véritable renouveau est venu du format court. Un court-métrage coûte moins cher, et le réalisateur n’a pas à besoin de chercher un apport financier auprès des financeurs du Nord. Ainsi donc, libéré de toute contrainte scénaristique et esthétique, le court-métrage s’émancipe du formatage subi par le long métrage… ll y a une vraie mutualisation des compétences durant le processus de création. Il s’agit d’un des rares secteurs artistiques à Madagascar où les acteurs collaborent afin d’optimiser les résultats.

On the Red Island [a nickname of Madagascar], there are no movie theaters anymore and no state structure is truly able to help the development of the industry because of a lack of political will and funding … The real revival of the film industry came from the use of the short films. A short film costs less, and the director does not need to seek financial support from the financiers of richer nations. Thus it freed filmmakers from the constraints and aesthetic of standard movies, in effect, short films are emancipated from the format imposed on feature movies… Additionally, there is a true collaborative sharing of skills during the creation process in Malagasy films. This is one of the few sectors in Madagascar where the artists work together to maximize results.

Lova Nantenaina is very clear on what he hopes his film will achieve. He states in his latest interview:

Il est de notre devoir de donner confiance à tous ces héros du quotidien

It is our duty to give confidence to these everyday heroes who make Madagascar

The documentary is showing in Europe and in Madagascar through June. Here is a list of locations where one can catch a session.

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