FATAL ASSISTANCE (ASSISTANCE MORTELLE) (Raoul Peck, 2012)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
February 28 - March 6
Award-winning Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance begins by posting remarkable numbers onscreen: In the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit his native country on January 12, 2010, there were 230,000 deaths, 300,000 wounded, and 1.5 million people homeless, with some 4,000 NGOs coming to Haiti to make use of a promised $11 billion in relief over a five-year period. But as Peck reveals, there is significant controversy over where the money is and how it’s being spent as the troubled Haitian people are still seeking proper health care and a place to live. “The line between intrusion, support, and aid is very fine,” says Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister at the time of the disaster, explaining that too many of the donors want to cherry-pick how their money is used. Bill Vastine, senior “debris” adviser for the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH), which was co-chaired by Bellerive and President Bill Clinton, responds, “The international community said they were gonna grant so many billions of dollars to Haiti. That didn’t mean we were gonna send so many billions of dollars to a bank account and let the Haitian government do with it as they will.” Somewhere in the middle is CIRH senior housing adviser Priscilla Phelps, who seems to be the only person who recognizes why the relief effort has turned into a disaster all its own; by the end of the film, she is struggling to hold back tears.
A self-described “political radical,” Peck doesn’t play it neutral in Fatal Assistance, instead adding mournful music by Alexei Aigui, somber English narration by a male voice (Peck narrates the French-language version), and a female voice-over reading melodramatic “Dear friend” letters that poetically trash what is happening in Haiti. “Every few decades, the rich promise everything to the poor,” the male voice-over says. “The dream of eradication of poverty, disease, death remains a perpetual fantasy.” Even though Peck (Lumumba, 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival centerpiece Moloch Tropical) attacks the agendas of the donors and NGOs while pushing an agenda of his own, Fatal Assistance is an important document that shows that just because money pours in to help in a crisis situation doesn’t mean that the things that need to be done are being taken care of properly. The centerpiece selection of the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Fatal Assistance is back at the Film Society of Lincoln Center for its week-long U.S. theatrical release February 28 - March 6 with Peck, the former Haitian minister of culture, the 1994 winner of the HRWFF’s Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking, and the 2001 HRWFF Lifetime Achievement Award winner, on hand for Q&As after several screenings.