Over the course of history, most civilisations and societies have relied on agriculture and fishing to survive. However, due to technological advances in the First and Developing Worlds, traditional farming has become increasingly unsustainable and scarce. Whilst the Third World is beginning to move away from traditional industries, millions of people still rely on them for their livelihoods; especially in rural areas. Global recession is making this increasingly difficult.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the poorest, if not the poorest, countries in the world. Whilst poverty is rife in the cities, it’s in the remoter places where the suffering is at its peak. Makala (the Swahili word for coal), the new documentary from Emmanuel Gras, follows a charcoal burner called Kabwita who lives with his wife and children in the Congolese countryside. All he wants is to earn enough money to build a house for his family. Gras’ camera follows him as he begins his quest, from planning, to burning, to transporting his produce 50 kilometres on a pushbike to sell.

Makala is a studied observational film-making which at times feels like it could easily be a work of narrative fiction. This is largely down to Gras’ camerawork and the score. Best-known as a cinematographer, he uses several visual techniques which make the film much tenser than it has any right to be. The story is one of unimaginable hard work, toil and struggle for very little. Even when the camera leads towards naturalism, the music doesn’t necessarily follow. Makala is a compelling documentary which tells an important story through the eyes of one man’s struggle.

Makala is out in cinemas from 2 February.