The World Is Rich is a product of the documentary industry in transition. An
early release from the newly created Central Office of Information, it was part
of a trend in British documentary towards international subject matter. But it
was also an informal sequel to Paul Rotha's 1943 film World of Plenty, concerned
as it is with the food situation confronted by the globe in the early years
after World War Two.
The film was produced in a 47-minute version, and a punchier 35-minute cut.
Many of Rotha's usual touches are evident, though in fairly restrained form.
Isotype diagrams are used but reasonably sparingly. Various narrators present
different perspectives (typically, a female voice is the most compassionate and
empathetic). But here they coalesce into a loose collage of observations, rather
than being knitted into the highly schematic, allegorical pattern of earlier
films. A very large proportion of the footage is taken from other sources: the
images of starved children are quite harrowing even to today's hardened viewers.
They would have been the more shocking for 1947's Western viewers (unthinkingly
prejudiced as some of them were), given that many of the people shown are white
Europeans. The film is frankly promotional - for the United Nations' Food and
Agriculture Organisation - and features pieces to camera by its then head, John
Boyd Orr (nutritional scientist and longtime Rotha collaborator). Yet it is also
viscerally angry that humankind and its political systems have allowed famine to
occur and persist. In the 21st century, they still do.
Notable among the credits (alongside a young Roy Plomley, of Desert Island
Discs fame, providing one of the voices) are members of the second generation of
factual filmmakers - those trained by the likes of Rotha and with rewarding
careers still ahead of them. Michael Clarke and Michael Orrom, assistants on The
World Is Rich, were prolific writer-director-producers within the postwar
documentary industry from which Paul Rotha became largely estranged. Apparently,
this film caused some onsternation in official circles, and
understandably so. The COI's status was growing clearer - that it was the
state's information agency, not a government-funded catalyst for socially
engaged, sometimes independently minded, film production. As a result,
documentaries as polemical as The World Is Rich became increasingly