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A Reel Life film section

Issue: Summer 2015-6

Poverty, Inc (2014) movie review

A Devil's Bargain

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Michael Matheson Miller spent four years traveling to 20 countries and conducted over 150 interviews with NGOs and aid recipients. Now he asks the questions; 'is the global aid industry broken and is it time to move away from an aid model and towards an empowerment model?'

The encompassing idea behind Poverty, Inc. is nicely summed up by one of the interviewees when she discusses the rest of the world's method of dealing with developing countries: "Emergency disaster relief has become the permanent model".

movie still, Poverty, Inc; Festivale film review; 500x281

"We made a devil's bargain," says former president Clinton about U.S.-Haiti trade and agricultural policies, which decimated (sic) the Haitian rice economy and crippled the country's ability to feed itself. Photo: Mark Waters

The film analyses the aid industry as it works today, and the effects it has been having on the continent for decades, asking whether ongoing "humanitarian" work in the region has actually left people better off.

As we are shown a number of very compelling and emotional case studies we begin to see that before we can help to work for change perhaps the very ways in which we have thought about economics, poverty and charity might need to change.

From the start the film addresses the notion that Africa is a barren continent and that external help is the only salvation. The root causes of farmers going broke is shown to be a market system in which Africans are excluded from active participation, relegated to becoming passive perpetual aid recipients.

We see Bill Clinton apologising for "humanitarian" decisions he made that left Haiti less able to provide its own food supply, then are led through all of the consequences of non-emergency donations. We are shown how the introduction of free goods onto the market cuts out all local competition and innovation, whether it be through the more typical methods of free rice or chickens, through "charitable marketing" such as Tom's shoes, or organisations providing free solar panels in an attempt to further progress in poor areas.

We also see a well-meaning family who intended to adopt a child from an orphanage, only to find out a disturbing fact about the circumstances of the child's mother. They explain to us what they have found out, and what they've decided to do to help instead, showing us the progress that can be made if only people in developing countries can be integrated into modern capitalism.

movie still, Poverty, Inc, Festivale film review; 500x281

Artisan, entrepreneur, and proud working mother Makilene Velnis stands with her family in the home she purchased with the income she earned working at the Apparent Project. Photo Credit: Simon Scionka

The film does a great job of showing the failings of the aid industry and of misguided humanitarian policies, and clearly points to individual self-determination and financial independence as the salvation of poor communities, and specifically addresses celebrities such as Bono and Angelina Jolie. Unfortunately for inspiration it also relies heavily on examples which show participants who still have very limited agency and resources, and also provides only one way forward: developing countries must be integrated properly into the market system that left them in need of aid to begin with.

Overall the film is captivating and insightful, and sheds a well-needed light on an industry that many would not think to question.

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by Laura Tikotin
Australian release 24 Feb 2016
Poverty, Inc is one of the films featured in Transitions Film Festival.
Full program of Transitions Film Festival is online here
For credits and official site details, see below
Search Festivale for more work by the film-makers below.
See also:

>See more films to be released in Feb 2016

Just the facts:

Title: Poverty, Inc (2014)
Written by: Michael Matheson Miller, Simon Scionka, Jonathan Witt
Directed by: Michael Matheson Mille
Running time: 91 mins

The Players: ,,

Official website: WWW.POVERTYINC.ORG
IMDb entry

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