Haitian dollar. Haiti’s Oscar. Raoul Peck?
All eyes on the Oscars tonight but many might want to look sideways, away from the hype, the hope and the inevitable hysteria – at an offering that doesn’t seem likely even to achieve release in the theatres and may only show at viewings sponsored by the very non-governmental organizations it skewers!
Clearly, we’re not talking any of the following:
Lincoln – 12 Oscar nominations
Life of Pi – 11 nominations
Les Miserables – 8 nominations
Silver Linings Playbook – 8 nominations
Argo – 7 nominations
I’m referring to Raoul Peck’s ‘Fatal Assistance’, a brand new documentary on the old, old way Haiti is once again left feeling shortchanged by high-volume, high-wattage international aid. A Haitian Oscar nomination for Peck would be consistent with that very Haitian invention – the Haitian dollar, a currency that doesn’t really exist except in the mind and its certain, if fluctuating exchange rate – multiply the Hatian dollar price by five to arrive at its real value!
So to Peck’s film, which premiered at the 2013 Berlinale. It is, says film writer David D’Arcy, a “discouraging look” at relief efforts targeted at Haiti. But it isn’t, he cautions, “the kind of boilerplate tirade that you would expect from the Right against international relief to address natural disasters, refugee problems or collateral damage from wars.”
So what is it? And why should anyone who isn’t Haitian or part of an NGO that works in Haiti (or plans to do so) watch it?
Perhaps because it illustrates the essential problem with hand-out vs hand-up policy. As D’Arcy writes of the aid effort as depicted by Peck in Fatal Assistance, “The problem isn’t that Haiti didn’t need help, but that the help was awkwardly administered in an approach that went over the heads of the people who needed it most.”
So far, so usual.
But the problem, for Peck’s film – and more poignantly, for Haiti – is that it “is no longer the crisis of the week”. In this, the ultimate fall from grace, it has become the blindest spot of them all.