“Haiti doesn’t have a voice. It doesn’t have an identity. We, Haitians, need to take back the role of storytellers and tell our own history.” This was one of the reasons for filmmaker Raoul Peck to follow the reconstruction efforts in his home country after the earthquake in January 2010. Peck emphasizes that he was not planning on filming crying women and dead bodies in the streets. His goal was to challenge the country’s role of victim and turn the cameras on those who normally do the storytelling and the observing.
The result is the documentary “Fatal Assistance” (Assistance Mortelle), a painful 100-minute exposé on how international development and humanitarian aid have gone bad. It is a story about well-intentioned donors and aid organizations that have lost themselves in rituals of red tape, having become the inefficient players of a rudderless multinational aid-industry. Last week the documentary had its American premiere during the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in cooperation with the Margaret Mead Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. Peck himself was available for questions after the screening and I had access to an earlier interview that Peck had given to a crew from Haiti Reporters before the film’s first screening in Haiti.
Peck has documented the efforts of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) that was created shortly after the earthquake. With the Haitian prime minister Jean Max Bellerive and Bill Clinton as its co-presidents, the IHRC was tasked to oversee the spending of billions of dollars of international assistance in a way that was in alignment with the concerns of Haitians and the Haitian government. It was not new to see that after more than two years of “reconstruction,” too many Haitians are still living in extremely poor living conditions. Or, to quote a man who has lost his house in the earthquake, “in houses that . . .