What kind of brand message do you associate with the clothing firm Benetton? Remember those distinctive brightly coloured adverts which feature people from different cultures and creeds?

Remember the shock tactics of the controversial ‘United Colours’ campaign, which featured an Aid’s activist dying of Aids and pictures of inmates on death row? A company with a social conscience perhaps? With a progressive and uncompromising attitude? The filmmakers of Colours at the End of the World set out to understand how a clothing brand promoting cultural equality came into conflict with two Mapuches over the issue of land rights. Ale Corte’s film uncovers a ‘quality’ of the Italian company Lucia Benetton would have preferred concealed. 

In 2002 in Patagonia, Argentina, two Mapuches (indigenous inhabitants of Central and Southern Chile and Southern Argentina) Rosa and Atilio were evicted from their home. After spending most of his life virtually in slave labour for several companies in the supposedly ‘modern’ world, Atilio became tired of being exploited. He had intended to return to Pagonia to live and work off the land as his forefathers had, but the land had been passed into Benetton’s hands to be used for livestock breeding. Benetton operates many ranches in Argentina, mostly in Patagonia, and the local people are prevented from accessing ‘his’ rivers, a resource integral to their livelihood.

With the assistance of human rights organisations and luminaries such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel supporting their campaign, Rosa and Atilio continue to fight in order to stay on the land. Research on the history of the land showed how systems of ownership were imposed on Mapuche culture and that the plot never actually belonged to the company. The documentary uncovers a nasty history of land grabs and government favouritism of wealthy multinationals, leading to indigenous people being deprived of their land. 

A battle of wills commences and instead of giving the land back, Benetton offers to make a donation to the communities affected. But as Atlilio lucidly points out ‘He talked about a donation, but he couldn’t do that, as it wasn’t his to give.’

Benetton also sets up the museum of Leleque to record local history, however as well as denying them their land he also denies the Mapuche tribe of their history. When Rosa asked why they are not mentioned in the history of the area she was told it was because their culture did not exist anymore. Ironically a company that supposedly champions multiculturalism at the same time denies the Mapuches of their own.

The filmmakers never lose sight of the bigger picture and the story of how Benetton managed to buy the land in the first place can be traced back to Britain. It was the British who apparently instigated the colonisation of Patagonia. They encouraged splitting the unfarmed land into small productive ranches and then importing people and livestock. The overarching message of the film is that the atrocities that have taken place in Patagonia are being also repeated across the world: Esquivel refers to this as the ‘silent genocide against the native communities.’

Luciano Benetton is not simply written of as an evil capitalist, rather a contradictory figure who, alongside being disinterested in Rosa and Atilio’s campaign until he’s backed into a corner, also runs community projects for young people and renovates local historical buildings in Treviso, Italy, where his headquarters are based. But one can not help but wonder how much of this ‘good will’ is encouraged by a genuine concern for people or for the company’s brand image. Benetton need to practice what they preach.

Dr Kelly Robinson

Film programmer (Birds Eye View, The White Bus) and Lecturer in Silent Film at the University of Southampton

To read our interview with the director Ale Corte, click here.

To read more reviews of the film, click here.

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