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4 out of 4 stars



Directed by Julian T. Pinder

Classification: NA

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In January, 2006, three starry-eyed American resort developers, two expat eccentrics and some increasingly restless locals were living in imperfect harmony in a sleepy fishing village on a gorgeous stretch of Nicaragua's Pacific coast dubbed the Central American Riviera. Toronto filmmaker Julian T. Pinder's captivating, intimate and often funny documentary Land lets us join the citizens of this "underdeveloped" community during the months leading up to a general election that threatens radical change to the status quo.

Of course the November, 2006, election results in Nicaragua are known: Former revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega became president for the second time. But this knowledge in no way detracts from this rich film, which uses the looming election (with artful use of archived footage and photographs providing historical and political context) to build tension.

The main attractions of Land, however, are the engaging folk Pinder finds to illustrate the complexity of land issues in Nicaragua. The issues aren't as simple as "developers bad, locals good," although some gringos do exploit cheap local labour. Pinder makes sure his key characters are not merely "representative" but real people whose fates we care about - even if we don't like some of them that much.

My favourite is Dean, an irascible, foul-mouthed, beer-swilling American expat who's a hilarious commentator on the intrigue between developers ("land whores and dirt pimps") and locals. His gruff poetry finds its counterpoint in lovely scenes with Nicaraguan poet and ex-guerrilla Sebastien Narvaez, who feels for the nation's broken, forgotten soul.

We also get choice words from politician Eden Pastora, who once cut a dashing figure as a revolutionary leader nicknamed Commander Zero. Pastora points out Nicaragua has few exports and no industry: "All we have is our land." This passion drives some locals to take both legal and illegal actions to change the game.

With a personal touch, Land tells a universal story of foreigners transforming paradise to attract more foreign tourists. Whether this is good or right depends on your idea of the ideal vacation.

Land plays at the Royal Cinema in Toronto June 4-6 and 9-10. Director in attendance.

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