Herald rating: * * * *
Your jeans will never fit quite as comfortably again after you've seen this small, quietly angry and finally heartrending documentary by the man responsible for the anti-WalMart Store Wars.
Unlike the earlier film, this has no single, multinational corporate villain to hiss at. Instead it implicates the whole interlocking system of global "free trade" by which the affluent in the West can get good value out of the labour of Third World poor, while middle men get rich.
The poor in this case are the millions who pour into the southern Chinese city of Shaxi looking for work in the garment factories. Many are like 15-year-old Jasmine, the film's engaging main character - naive, fragile, vulnerable, and so keen on the chance to make some money that they are easy prey for the sweatshop operators.
The film takes us into the lives of Jasmine and her mates, who make a few cents an hour working as long as 20 hours a day while living in cheerless dormitories. What little they do earn is routinely withheld to guarantee loyalty.
Peled shot much of the footage clandestinely and never with the permission of the Chinese authorities who reportedly tried to have the film pulled from the lineup at the Toronto festival.
But he is not after cheap villains and plainly shows how the factory owners are not really bad men. Despite the sign on the wall that says, "Work hard today or look hard for work tomorrow", Jasmine's boss, Mr Lam, a one-time policeman, is seen as a cog in a machine.
In a key scene, an English buyer bargains denim suits down to a few dollars a unit - suits that he can sell for 30 times the price.
Mr Lam, for fear of losing the contract, has no choice but to agree, but as a result he must extract from his workforce more output for the same pay.
It's a sobering assessment, rescued from being entirely depressing by the sunny, matter-of-fact disposition of Jasmine and her mates. But when she talks to the owner of a pair of jeans she has worked on, it is impossible not to be touched. And when she asks, "Who are the fat, tall people who buy these jeans we make?" it is impossible not to feel implicated.
Verdict: Tough, charming and persuasive documentary about exploitation in the manufacture of blue jeans.
Director: Micha Peled
Running time: 88 minutes
Screening: Rialto Auckland, Hamilton Victoria