Halifax, Nova Scotia--Documentary filmmaker Michele Mitchell completed a successful series of premieres in Maritime Canada of her new film, 'Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?' in this city on May 18. The film was shown in six towns and cities in three provinces--Fredericton, Summerside, Charlottetown, Sydney, Indian Brook and Halifax.
The film has been showing on PBS stations in the United States. These were the first public screenings of the film in Canada.
Attendance at the screenings ranged from 35 to 60 people. The largest turnout was in Halifax, with Charlottetown a close second.
Each screening was followed by a question and answer period with the filmmaker. The film is a critical assessment of post-earthquake conditions in Haiti. It depicts the absence of relief and of reconstruction in much of the earthquake zone. The story is told by a wide range of aid advocates and activists who are presented in the film.
Discussions periods at the screenings were lively. A few participants challenged the film's findings, suggesting that conditions in Haiti were improving, notably outside of the earthquake zone. But others with direct experience confirmed the film's observations.
Mitchell was interviewed on three CBC Radio One programs-two in Nova Scotia and one in Prince Edward Island. The host of the Nova Scotia-wide afternoon program, Mainstreet, began an informative, ten-minute interview with, "For the past two years, (Michele Mitchell) has been challenging relief organizations and NGOs to find out why billions of dollars of donations have brought little relief."
Mitchell was asked her impressions of her two visits to Haiti since the earthquake. "Shocking," she replied, "shocking." She said her first visit to Haiti in the fall of 2010 was very troubling. She returned one year later, expecting to see improvement, and she did not. "Conditions had gotten worse, and I did not know that this was remotely possible."
Mitchell says there are many positive examples of assistance in Haiti. Several of them are presented in the film, and she mentioned two others during the radio interview-the organization SOIL that builds compost toilets, and OXFAM. But she says the record of most of the larger organizations is poor.
The work of the American Red Cross in Haiti comes under particular scrutiny in the film. Haitians asked her to do so, Mitchell explained. The American Red Cross received the largest amount of donations of any in the world. "The fact is I can't tell you what they did with the money because it's impossible to know."
The radio host explained that the program corresponded with the American Red Cross in preparation for the interview. The agency disputes the accusations by Haitians and aid activists that are aired in the film. Mitchell says the agency's comments "don't even come close" to answering the concerns that she heard and presents in the film. Furthermore, she said that similar concerns about the agency have been voiced in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In the discussion period at the screening in Halifax, several participants noted that media reporting and public discussion of the post-earthquake situation in Haiti has all but ended in Canada. Two all-party delegations of Canadian parliamentarians visited Haiti earlier this year but neither produced a written report or any other evidence of findings for Canadians to reflect upon.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick, several alternative media organizations invited Mitchell to do a presentation on investigative journalism. Forty people attended and an excellent exchange of ideas and experiences took place. Mitchell is a documentary journalist with many years of experience, including one year of reporting from Afghanistan. She recently co-founded Film At 11. The New York City company produced 'Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?'
This film tour depended for its success on hundreds of hours of volunteer time, rent-free venues, and donations from three universities and the six film audiences. At each of the six towns and cities where the film screened, residents opened their homes to billet the tour organizer and film director.
More premiere screenings of 'Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?' are planned for later this year in Canada in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and British Columbia. For more information, contact the Canada Haiti Action Network at [email protected]. The DVD film can be ordered for $20 (plus shipping) here: http://filmat11.tv/store/.
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