The organizer of the Festival du Film Vert, the green film festival of Geneva, recently asked me to “moderate” a debate after a screening. I was confused. The plan was to show a documentary about the link between sushi and overfishing. Afterwards, the producer of the documentary and a marine biologist would take questions from the audience. What was there to moderate?
Welcome to the French-speaking part of the world, where debating is regarded as the national sport. Francophones debate in cafes, town halls and, with equal passion, meetings of the local tennis club. At primetime radio and TV host discussions about politics and culture but also about less obvious topics like the metaphysical obligation to commemorate. From early on, French-speakers learn how to express their own opinions and, in particular, invalidate those of others.
Judging from the vehemence with which the audience of the green film festival joined the debate after the documentary, overfishing is the single most pressing issue in Geneva. The producer of the documentary was bombarded with questions that lead to fiery debates. Why did the documentary lack a moral judgement about overfishing? Whose fault was overfishing in the end? That of the consumers, of the government or of the industrial fishers? What about organic fisheries? One theme lead to the other. Overfishing! Overpopulation! Forced family planning! Inequality between men and women! The marine biologist started to sweat.
The evening turned out to be the best workout I had had in ages. I was running up and down the stairs of the theater to hand the microphone to this person and snatch it back from someone else. I had to interrupt monologues, calm people who started to shout and ask people to remain seated. I was universally despised when after an hour I announced that, unfortunately, we had no more time left.
Afterwards I heard that the debate had continued in the theater’s café, without a moderator. Overfishing must have claimed victims that evening.