Climate gentrification is omnipresent. With rising sea levels, people are forced to move further inland and the housing market must turn elsewhere. This search for new land to “develop” leaves many minority groups out of a place to live in favor of the upper and middle classes who can afford new, up-to-date housing. And though this comparison is certainly not airtight, there are many similarities to be seen between this more recent crisis and what is depicted in Felipe Gálvez Haberle’s harrowing directorial debut, THE SETTLERS (Los colonos).
The film follows three men in the late 19th century who are hired to track the perimeter of a wealthy landowner’s extensive property to create a pathway from Chile to the Atlantic Ocean through Patagonia. The three men are a British captain, an American mercenary, and a Chilean mestizo, and their journey eventually turns into a horrific genocide of the native population in order to create the land necessary for further economic development. The two white men have no issue indulging in mass murder, but the Chilean, Segundo, stands by as these atrocities occur, powerless to fight back. This situation is similar to what is happening today with climate gentrification. Those who are given power do not feel the remorse of their actions and only see the gain, while those that are abused and are a part of the communities that are being torn to shreds are powerless to do anything, no matter how much it pains them.
It is important to note that the landowner who hires the three men is the real life figure José Menéndez, a Spanish businessman who operated out of Argentina during the time the movie takes place in. It could even be said that the movie is inspired by real life events. Menéndez did at one point come into possession of a vast amount of land, not unlike the Menéndez in the film, and developed land. They would both also create various companies that would lead to the urbanization of areas in Argentina and Patagonia through his usage of that land. But the most striking similarity is their complicit nature in genocide. The film version of Menéndez did not bat an eye at the disgraceful actions of his men, and recent research has proven fruitful in finding the real Menéndez guilty of instigating genocide against the natives for his own personal gain.
Obviously the removal of people from their land in THE SETTLERS is far more violent than what occurs in reality, but the point remains the same. The discriminatory and forceful ousting of those who already occupy land for monetary aggrandizement is harmful and unjust. The film shows how, although in different forms from today, gentrification must not be tolerated, for the price that is paid because of it is far too high. Climate gentrification is not mentioned, nor does it have a presence in THE SETTLERS, but the film does show just how devastating it can be. Climate gentrification is just an evolution of colonial and capitalist omnipotence. In turn, the film is a revisionist Western that shows a more authentic portrait of the West’s controlled narrative of “discovery” for the sake of God and country.
Devin Hung is currently a sophomore majoring in Creative Media at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He was selected last year to be a mentee in HIFF’s Online Creators and Critics Immersive where he wrote articles on some of the films present, and has written movie reviews since working for his high school’s newspaper. He aims to one day become a film critic with an audience to introduce films of varying origins and genres to, as well as provide himself with an outlet to channel his love of film. When he isn’t watching movies or doing his schoolwork, he enjoys spending his time writing, spending time with his friends, and religiously updating his Oscar predictions.
The HIFF ONLINE CREATIVES & CRITICS IMMERSIVE (HOCCI) program supports sustainable film criticism in Hawai‘i through mentorship and paid career opportunities. The mission of HOCCI is to broaden diversity in film criticism across the Pacific region and use influencer branding strategies to spark career opportunities in Hawai’i, not be hampered by oceans, state borders and distance, because geography is no longer a barrier. The 2023 HOCCI is supported by Critical Minded, a grant-making and learning initiative that supports cultural critics of color in the United States.