Documentary: Post-quake Haiti rebuilding, a ‘Fatal Assistance’



A year after Haiti-born award-winning filmmaker Raoul Peck first screened his documentary about the international community’s failure to rebuild post-quake Haiti to Haitian and European audiences, the film has finally made its way to South Florida.

Fatal Assistance will be on a limited run Thursday through Sunday at O Cinema Miami Shores at Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave. Peck, who lives in Paris and is currently filming in Haiti, will be at the 7:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday showings to answer questions. Ticket prices are $10.50 for adults, and $9 for seniors and students. Thursday’s showings are at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Other show times can be viewed on the cinema’s website at www.o-cinema.org.

The film’s South Florida debut is being sponsored by the Green Family Foundation, which also has teamed up with Florida International University’s Latin America and Caribbean Center to screen the film for students and faculty. Peck will speak from 3 to 4 p.m. Friday at FIU Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 NE 151st St., North Miami, ACII Bldg, Room 161.

Peck was given unprecedented access to the inner workings of a commission charged with the rebuilding effort, and also interviews with donors as they wrangled over how to rebuild a country where the disaster had killed more than 300,000 and injured an equal number, and left 1.5 million homeless in tents.

The first public screening of the film was at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013. It was also shown to Creole-language audiences in Haiti, including former President René Préval, who makes his own startling election-day revelation in the film about leaving the country. The former head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, has disputed Préval’s recollection of events.

Still, Préval’s read on the situation as Haiti struggled to rebuild and hold 2010 presidential elections amid the disaster, and his interaction with key international players including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, underscore the age-old tensions that often take place between Haitian leaders and their foreign benefactors. Clinton served as co-chair of the now defunct Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission after Haiti’s disastrous Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. Pushed by the U.S., the commission’s role was to steer the $5.33 billion donors pledged over five years to rebuild, and oversee the rebuilding.

Peck, who didn’t set out to make a film about the failed rebuilding efforts, said the feedback has varied.

“Sometimes enthusiastic, at other times unexpectedly hard, depending where the audience found itself in the ‘food chain’ of aid, so to speak,” he said. “Managers of major international agencies continue to be in complete denial.”

A Creole language version of the film that was broadcast across Haiti opened the discussion to a wider audience, Peck said.

“Creole makes it an even more intense and consuming film because the language does not permit ambiguity,” he said.

Peck, who is known for the critically acclaimed Rwandan genocide film Sometimes in April, said the reception he’s received for Fatal Assistance has surprised him.

The Haitian people, he said, “felt proud and represented; for once, it was their voice that spoke and directed the ‘story telling.’ For once they felt they had said their peace. For once, they did not see on screen frenzied women, death and corpses all over. Instead, they saw Haitians thinking about their country, analyzing their situation and had dreams for their future, in humility and serenity.”

Four years after the disaster, many are still asking where did the aid money go as billions in donor pledges remain outstanding, and Haiti reports that the number of people living in squalid tent cities has dropped by more than 90 percent to less than 150,000.

“As far as I am concerned, there has not been any ‘ongoing struggle to rebuild,’ ” Peck said. “It’s a waste of energy, of resources, of the creativity of the Haitian people. The film is quite clear in that sense.

Fatal Assistance, as the title says, is the perfect phrase to depict how everything can go wrong despite the best of intentions. And by the way, it’s not just about Haiti. It’s about the overall experience with the aid machine today, everywhere.”

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