Edition Filmmuseum 60

Chittagong in Southern Bangladesh a graveyard for the West's run-down or obsolete ships, massive vessels driven onto the beaches and left to be taken apart by hand using only the most basic tools. Poor farmers escaping the regular famine in the north of the country travel south to get work. Barefoot and with no masks or safety equipment, they work in the yards under incredibly dangerous conditions. The award-winning documentary features beautiful footage of the monolithic ship-yards and describes a systematic exploitation, which only very few of the workers can escape.

The Film

Eisenfressser - Germany/Bangladesh 2007 - Written, photographed and directed by: Shaheen Dill-Riaz - Edited by: Andreas Zitzmann - Produced by: Lemme Film GmbH, Hamburg

About Eisenfresser

The country can no longer feed its people. Monsoon rains, droughts and erosion force rice farmers in northern Bangladesh to confront insurmountable economic challenges. They have no other choice but to go in search of work in the south. Their employers are clearly fully aware of this there can be no other explanation for the appalling conditions the northern farmers are forced to submit themselves to. The first thing that stands out is the total lack of safety gear. Workers walk across mountains of rusty, sharp-edged iron with no safety shoes. They drag huge slabs of iron around and pull heavy steel ropes through the sludge barefoot and with their bare hands. They wear neither hardhats nor goggles not even when using blowtorches.

The incomprehensible lack of the most minimal safety measures gives viewers a true sense of the workers' plight. The camera is right in the thick of it, as if endeavouring to replicate the experience of a wage slave. It borders on the miraculous that there haven't been more injuries here. The closing credits explain that conditions at the PHP shipyard in the film (PHP stands for "Peace, Happiness and Prosperity") are quite good, in comparison to other ship-breaking yards in the Bay of Bengal.

One must fully appreciate these physical conditions in order to understand why these workers can muster neither the strength nor the courage to unite and fight against their circumstances. The system of exploitation works with an almost perfidious simplicity. The northerners do the dirty work and the southerners as a whole appear to benefit from it. They have the better jobs, as supervisors, foremen, subcontractors and, above all, they earn money by selling food. The longer the already wretched slaves must wait for their wages, the more they must survive on loans and their employers use these debts as an excuse to withhold wages, claiming that the money must go directly to the food merchants.

Shaheen Dill-Riaz observes closely and trusts in what he reveals. In this way he can entirely forgo polemics (in, for example, the montage). "The unfathomable working conditions we see in the film were not what surprised me the most; it was the management structures that drove people into an often fatal debt trap. What I find even more shocking is the fact that the rules of this system of exploitation are based on the fundamental principles of the economic system we are all a part of. Eisenfresser shows exactly where that can lead." (Shaheen Dill-Riaz)

Hans Günther Pflaum

DVD features

  • Eisenfresser 2007, 85'
  • Premiere in Bangladesh 2008, 13'
  • 12 page trilingual booklet

Edited by: Goethe-Institut Munich
DVD authoring: Ralph Schermbach
DVD supervision: Stefan Drössler

First edition December 2010, Second March 2013

TV Format Original format Audio format Language Subtitles Region code

16:9 (PAL)
Dolby Digital 2.0 (Stereo)
Bahasa Indonesia
All Regions


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