Discussion Guide: Fatal Assistance

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After watching Fatal Assistance by Raoul Peck on February 12, 2018 (8pm EST), as part of season 10 of AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, you may have a lot of questions and thoughts about the film’s key issues. Here is the background on the film and some discussion prompts for engaging audience members. For more prompts, historical context, and resources for those seeking additional information, you can download the complete guide to Fatal Assistance here.

 

Background

Film Synopsis

In 2010 Haiti was ground zero for a massive earthquake that flattened much of the nation’s capital, killing tens of thousands, leaving more than a million people homeless, and confronting the small nation with the task of restoring normalcy with limited resources. In Fatal Assistance, Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck takes us on a two-year journey inside the challenging, contradictory and colossal rebuilding efforts in post-disaster Haiti. Using footage of ongoing projects, along with interviews of the officials and NGO workers responsible for implementation and the Haitians they are supposedly helping, the film dives headlong into the complexity of the reconstruction process and the failed practices of disaster relief, humanitarian aid, and economic development initiatives. Ultimately, the film reveals an uncomfortable reality for developed nations and a tragedy for those in need: a country can receive billions in foreign aid and be worse off for the effort.

Topics: disaster relief, economic development, foreign aid, Haiti, housing, human rights, humanitarian aid, government corruption, NGOs/aid organizations

 

Selected People Featured in the Film

Joséus Nader – Engineer, Ministry of Public Works, MTPTC

René Préval – President of Haiti

Jean-Max Bellerive – Prime Minister of Haiti and Co-chair of the IHRC

Gabriel Verret – Executive Director, IHRC

Priscilla Phelps – Housing Advisor, IHRC

Michel Martelly – President of Haiti, controversially “installed” by Western powers

 

The Filmmaker

Raoul Peck was born in 1953 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He is a director and writer, best known for Lumumba (2000), and I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary on American author James Baldwin that was nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award in 2017. He has also produced films for HBO and served as a juror for some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, including Berlin and Cannes.

In 1996-1997, Peck served in the Haitian government as the Minister of Culture. In 2001, Human Rights Watch awarded him with the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award. He currently heads the French state film school La Femis. His latest feature, The Young Karl Marx, was released in France in 2017, and will open in the United States in February 2018.

 

Discussion Prompts

General

If you were going to tell a friend about this film, what would you say?

In a word, what’s your initial reaction to this film? How did it make you feel?

Summarize the main message(s) of this film in a single sentence or tweet. How does your summary compare to what others in the room wrote? What do you think accounts for the similarities or differences?

Describe a moment in the film that you found particularly moving. What was it about that scene that was especially compelling?

Reviewing Core Content

What’s the meaning of the film’s title?

What is the difference between disaster relief and reconstruction funding? What’s the difference between humanitarian aid and economic development assistance?

What did you learn from the film about the ways that donor nations, aid organizations, or corporations make money from relief efforts? According to the film, how are those profits protected by keeping the Haitian government out of the decision making process?

 

For more context for the film and prompts about general aid, Haiti, filmmaking choices, and more, you can download the complete guide to Fatal Assistance here.