Film Review: Haiti – Where Did the Money Go?

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Film Review:  Haiti – Where Did the Money Go? HSG from Frontline Club, London, 02-07-2012

To the Frontline Club in Paddington, London for a showing of Michele Mitchell’s film Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? Unable to believe that   ten months after the disaster people were still living in tents when one in two American households had donated a record $1.4bn, Michele explains how she went to Haiti, twice, in November 2010 and then September 2011 to seek answers. Unfortunately, the Haitian context, particularly pre-earthquake, is largely missing. But the film does ask questions, and uses all the traditional television ploys to do so. It puts officials from the Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services on the spot for grit; shows Michele being nauseated by the state of the few unusable toilets in camps such as Carradeux to provide color, and follows one displaced family missing out on everything from water to shelter to provide individual human interest.

There is a somewhat simplistic focus on the amount of money spent by the big humanitarian agencies, and the smaller foreign NGOs that did or did not get cash, rather than the Haitian ministries or Haitian CSOs that needed it. Michele Mitchell and her team have secured some of the best people going as interviewees: author and long-time aid critic, Linda Polman; on-the-ground Haiti activists, Mark Snyder and Mark Schuller, and academic, Peter Walker. But given the material such pundits can provide, the sum of the parts here do not, somehow, add up to the film that they should.

Part of it is the usual constraints of time and money. The film started as a web-based production, and that shows. This was Michele’s first documentary and that shows too. But the fact is she made it, scrounging a few dollars here and few dollars there, committing to the project with little more than interns, and in the labour-of-love process putting other, more established filmmakers, to shame. The result provides a great basis for discussion, not least about why so few others are even thinking of questioning the NGOs working in Haiti along these lines and beyond. Next film suggestion Michele: Haiti: Where Did the Journalism Go? 

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