by Roger Annis (Haiti Liberte)
Halifax, Nova Scotia – Documentary filmmaker Michele Mitchell has completed a successful series of premieres in Maritime Canada of her new film, Haiti: Where Did The Money Go? Shown in six towns and cities, these were the first screenings of the film in Canada.
Attendance at the screenings ranged from 35 to 60 people. The largest turnout was the final screening here in Halifax on May 18, with Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on May 14 a close second.
Each screening was followed by a question and answer period with the filmmaker. The film harshly assesses post-earthquake conditions in Haiti, depicting the absence of relief and of reconstruction in much of the earthquake zone. That story is told by a wide range of aid advocates and activists appearing in the film.
Post-screening discussions were lively. Some participants challenged the film’s findings, suggesting that conditions in Haiti were perhaps improving. But many others had direct experience and confirmed the director’s observations.
Mitchell was interviewed on three CBC Radio One programs — two in Nova Scotia and one in Prince Edward Island. “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,” began the host of the Nova Scotia-wide afternoon program, Mainstreet, in starting his informative 10-minute interview.
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 a 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 another on radio—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 because, Mitchell said, Haitians asked her to do so. 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,” she said.
The radio host explained that the program received e-mail responses to questions it sent to the American Red Cross that dispute the accusations aired in the film by Haitians and aid activists. Mitchell says the agency’s comments “don’t even come close” to answering the concerns that she heard and observed. Furthermore, she said that similar concerns over the agency have been voiced in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In the discussion period at the Halifax screening, 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 findings.
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 company which produced Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?
The 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 Ottawa, Montreal, and British Columbia. For more information, contact the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) at firstname.lastname@example.org. The DVD film can be ordered for $20 at
Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and can be reached at email@example.com.
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