Last Supper for Malthus

( Switzerland / 2009 )
With 1 billion of the world’s population going to bed hungry, Last Supper For Malthus sheds light on one of the most prevalent and alarming issues of our time, the global food crisis. The film goes beyond focusing on some of the most controversial issues today including changing diets, climate change and the use food for fuel, and considers the effects of the worst global economic crisis seen in over 80 years. A leading and up-to-date reference work on the food crisis, “Last Supper For Malthus” is unique it its presentation of long-term feasible solutions.
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Formats: Digital Copy, DVD
Running Time: 52 min.
Theme: Ecology, Environment, Economy, Globalization, Health, History, Hybrid, Investigative Journalism, Politics see all »
Language(s): English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English
Director(s): Klaus Pas
Producer(s): Turbulence Films Sàrl.
Last Supper for Malthus

Academic Notes

  • ‘Like gold with yield’: Evolving intersections between farmland and finance, by Madeleine Fairbairn
    "The film ends on a note of technological optimism, but not before hitting home Malthusian arguments about population growth and resource scarcity."
  • Placing Malthus
    « Last Supper for Malthus », like some other contemporary documentaries, is deeply anchored into current affairs. The food crisis still burns the lips of most government officials, of most international organisations and agencies, of the media and mostly of the great many people that are hit by hunger. Already in 2005, critically acclaimed films like “We feed the world” by Erwin Wagenhofer, were dressing the portrait of a vulnerable agricultural paradigm.

    The documentary bases itself on renowned expert observations like those of U.N. Secretary general Ban Ki-moon, of F.A.O. director general Dr. Jacques Diouf, of acclaimed author Jean Ziegler, of the new rapporteur on the right to food Olivier de Schutter, of the “market guru” Donald Coxe as well as from the representatives of the main organisations like the World Food Program, Greenpeace, the Red Cross and many others.

    The film follows a balanced guidance and is not set out to shock or systematically and unilaterally condemn the dysfunctions of the system. On the contrary, it attempts to abolish any hot radicalisation by presenting a factual and global vision of our food and agricultural models.

    « Last Supper for Malthus » is truly original film. It features a fast-paced rhythm that can also be found in recent documentaries like “The 11th Hour” directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen and produced by Leonardo di Caprio (2007). Irony is the key tone carried by Malthus and his friend Ricardo who remind us of some of the sarcastic comments made by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006).
  • Context
    World population suffering from hunger keeps on progressing and we now reached the historical treshold of 1 billion people, according to the F.A.O.

    The Earth will soon count 6.8 billion inhabitants. It can currently feed 12 billion.

    Article 25 of the Declacration of Human Rights provides that “everyone should have the right to a sufficient lifestyle to insure health, welfare and food.”

    The global food crisis was triggered by a soar in prices of food staples, which became too expensive for all those already spending more than 60% of their income on food.

    Among the many ingredients of this perfect storm, some blame the drastic decrease in grain stocks and the recurring bad harvests between 2005 and 2007, mostly because of extreme weather changes ranging from drought to flood.
    Others set their eye on the additional pressure coming from the new demand for animal protein, which stems from the development of urban classes in Asia and Latin-America.

    In a climate of high oil prices, many countries encouraged the demand and production of agrofuels, especially in the U.S.A., the biggest corn producer, which in 2007/8, allocated 23% of its corn harvest to the production of corn-based ethanol, while 48% of the harvest is already allocated to animal feed.

    In 2008, speculation and the financial crisis hit food markets both ways.
    Today, the situation requires immediate action.
  • Experts
    Throughout this documentary, world leading experts thoroughly analyse the crisis and present their observations.

    Ban Ki-moon is a South Korean politician and diplomat. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs in his country from January 2004 to November 2006. He is now Secretary General of the United Nations.
    "We have not yet experienced the full blast of this financial crisis, but already we know that we will have to avoid that this economic meltdown undermines our efforts to mitigate climate change as well as our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals."

    Doctor Jacques Diouf is a Senegalese politician and diplomat. He worked as State Secretary and then as Ambassador of the Republic of Senegal. He is currently the Director General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
    "If each of the developing regions continues to reduce hunger at the current pace, only South America and the Caribbean will reach the Millennium Development Goal target of cutting the proportion of hungry people by half."

    Olivier de Schutter is a Belgian lawyer and law professor at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL, Belgium). Since May 2008 he is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food..
    "The food crisis of 2007-2008 finds its foundation in the rather blind belief in market mechanisms and the withdrawal of state regulation in the prices and management of agriculture."

    Doctor Rajendra K. Pachauri is both a scientist and economist. He was elected as President of the I.P.C.C. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2002 and then re-elected in 2008. He also heads the Institute for Energy and Resources in India. With the I.P.C.C., he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which he also shares with Al Gore.
    “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions,”

    Jean Ziegler is a writer and Swiss politician. After a long carrier as sociology professor at the University of Geneva, he then worked as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2000 to 2008. He is the controversial author of “the Empire of Shame” and recently received the Human Rights Literary Prize for his last novel “Hate for the West”.
    "Nowadays, a child who dies of hunger is simply assassinated."

    Other experts take part in the round table. Among them, is Gary Howe from I.F.A.D., Charles Vincent from W.F.P., Marion Guillou from I.N.R.A., Arnaud Apotheker from Greenpeace, Michael J. Dwyer from U.S.D.A. , Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar from the CATO Institute and Barbara Boyle from the I.C.R.C.

    This exclusive cast introduces many truths, which allow for a perspective look into the crisis, where every angle on a specific subject is approached by a specific expert in this field. The film also freely shares this wisdom with those who stand on the forefront of this crisis.

    The documentary is introduced by the British actor Paul Bandey, who plays the part of Reverend Thomas R. Malthus, a renowned London economist of the XIXth Century.

    Malthus predicts that population growth will always grow geometrically, while food production can only grow linearly. He therefore concludes that there shall always be demographic tragedies, except if we find a way to stop population growth. The film allows Malthus to confront his theories with expert opinions which makes for a rather dramatic and sarcastic tone.

    Malthus is joined on screen by the British actor Paul Barrett who plays David Ricardo. This other London economist gives us the essence of his theory of comparative advantage. He is a good friend of Malthus and nuances the radical ideas of the sinister reverend with a spice of enthusiastic pragmatism.

    Both actors serve as surprising guides and narrators for the audience and, like Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth", focus the attention to the core of the issue by taking the path of irony.

Quotes & Tweets

  • « The International Community is now facing a triple crisis: a development emergency, the global food crisis and climate change. »
    Ban Ki-moon
  • « To fill up the tank of car that runs on ethanol (around 50l), you need to burn 354 Kg of corn. With these 354 Kg of corn, a child living in Mexico or Zambia can feed itself for a whole year. It is therefore a crime against humanity. »
    Jean Ziegler
  • « It is not a matter of population. It is the population and the tools it uses to be able to be more productive and more effective. And this is through technology and through investment. »
    Jacques Diouf
  • « Here we are at this wold historical moment, for the first time, over half of the world’s population live in cities. They don’t produce food. They’re dependent on someone else. »
    Gary Howe
  • « Man is an animal. A vice-ridden animal, but luckily so, for were he not, he would over breed himself out of existence. » Rev. Thomas R. Malthus
    Rev. Thomas R. Malthus
  • Interview
    Why did you make this film?

    In 2008, when I started doing some research with Adrian Westbrook, who wrote the film with me, the food crisis was in every newspaper and in the streets all over the planet. It was not just and African problem anymore, as I naively believed before that. I guess it is curiosity that made me ask myself how we got there.

    Very quickly, Malthus’ theory and its applications came to mind. So I decided that the film would start with his angle of an “unavoidable famine”.

    In directing « Last Supper for Malthus », what were the difficulties?

    At first, I thought it would be hard to show such a dense subject – the global food crisis – in both a condensed and balanced way. Traps were laid: too many leads to follow, too many face to show too many very precise cases.

    The key point was the relationship between agri-economics and the human side of agriculture and hunger. How should one introduce a Senegalese farmer trying to make it to Europe and the excess if European agricultural subsidies at the same time, while allowing the audience to find its right place even when those problems seem so indirectly linked to them?

    The round table imposed itself as the engine of thought. Malthus and his contemporary, Ricardo would have to guide us into this agricultural maze and rebound on the observations of the different experts.
    Moreover, there is no absolute answer in this film. For, as Malthus points out, agriculture is cyclical and man will therefore live accordingly.

    Which message would you like the audience to walk away with?

    I personally hope that viewers will come out with several messages rather than one. But if I had to pick one in particular, it would certainly be the one of a fast changing world. Look where we came from since 1989; it is now impossible to think without keeping count of China and India, who together represent 37% of world population. If our global model takes the road of capitalist democracy, what will we still be able to decide in a few years from now? What seat will we have at the last supper?

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Additional Info


Production Company: Turbulence Films Sàrl.
Distribution Company: CAT&Docs

  • Synopsis

    With 1 billion of the world’s population going to bed hungry at night, documentary film, “Last Supper For Malthus” sheds light on one of the most prevalent and alarming issues of our time, the global food crisis.

    Director, Klaus Pas, brings to life political-economists Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, intertwining their theories with gripping images and interviews from some of the world’s leading experts on the topic from all corners of the globe, including figures such as U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Jean Ziegler, Olivier de Schutter and Donald Coxe.

    The film goes beyond focusing on some of the most controversial issues today including changing diets, climate change and the use food for fuel, and considers the effects of the worst global economic crisis seen in over 80 years.

    A leading and up-to-date reference work on the food crisis, “Last Supper For Malthus” is unique it its presentation of long-term feasible solutions, and can be seen as more than a movie, but a tool in solving what has been deemed by many as the ‘Permanent Food Crisis.

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Last Supper for Malthus

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