When aid and politics meets business, who really gains from the global giving industry? A searing indictment of the aid industry in Haiti, Afghanistan and PNG.
Interview with Director Thor Neureiter
Disaster Capitalism is an idea, a book (by Antony Loewenstein) and now a film. What exactly is Disaster Capitalism?
As investigative journalists who don’t subscribe to the embedded reporter mindset, Antony wanted to write a book and we make a film that questioned the economic system of our age in some of the most challenging places on the planet: Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea. By visiting these nations, and understanding how rarely the voices of those most affected by discriminatory economic policies are heard in the mainstream media, we hope to show viewers that the corporation has become more powerful than the state, and why that’s a big problem for democracy and accountability.
Unaccountable aid from the West is rampant and rather than helping people on the ground is often enriching corporations in the West.
I’m curious what it’s been like for Antony to move from print journalism to film and for Thor to make a film with a journalist. Have you been following a script or does Antony’s book serve as a guide?
We’ve been working on the film together since 2012, though we worked on the idea separately for a few years before that. Visiting challenging locations is difficult as an author or filmmaker though certainly filming, arranging access etc, is time-consuming and sensitive. The film doesn’t follow a set script. Antony’s book is a very rough guide but we’re both constantly collaborating on the focus of the film.
The clip on We are moving stories reminded me of Jeremy Scahill’s presence onscreen in Dirty Wars. Is Scahill’s film an inspiration for your approach?
Yes, Dirty Wars is an inspiration, as is Naomi Klein’s work, the film Virunga and other documentaries that take the viewer deep into a subject to empathise with local characters. Antony isn’t the focus of our film but the person through whose eyes a viewer sees some of the most challenging places on the planet.
Why did you decide to focus on Haiti, Afghanistan and PNG? Why do those countries resonate for you more than others?
We could have chosen many other nations struggling with foreign aid, rapacious mining interests and war but we picked these three states because they perfectly and tragically showed everything that is wrong with our current global order. How many people really know where their aid is going and how it’s used in Afghanistan? Why aren’t dirty mining companies being held accountable in Papua New Guinea? Why has so much US aid to Haiti disappeared and gone to waste?
With strong characters in every country, we’re aiming to show viewers largely hidden worlds and along with a strong impact plan before, during and after the film’s release, to affect change in NGOs, the UN, media and wider community, to educate and inform about how aid should be used more wisely.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
The film has received many positive responses including the recent inclusion in the 2016 Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto. One of 19 films chosen out of over 200 submitted, we will be pitching our film to generate finishing funds, support and global interest.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
As journalists and film-makers we’re constantly open to constructive feedback and we receive this via our co-producers Media Stockade (based in Australia), social media, friends and supporters. Antony is based in the Middle East and Thor is in New York so we’re a truly global team.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
We’re hoping that our film will attract interest from anybody who likes documentaries that are beautifully shot, challenging, asks key questions about the world and believes that aid must be delivered in smarter and more collaborative ways.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We are looking to interest sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists or anybody who can help us get the project finished and out into the world.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
One of our primary goals is to inform viewers about issues and countries that too rarely attract deep coverage in the media. Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea feature in the news but mostly in sound bites. We aim to engage with locals and foreigners who work in these states and use our film as a tool to effect positive change towards aid and resources.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
When aid and politics meets business, who really gains from the global giving industry?
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Director: Thor Neureiter
Writer: Antony Loewenstein
Producer: Thor Neureiter, Antony Loewenstein and Sydney production company Media Stockade
Looking for: Completion funding and interest from sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists
Funders: Bertha Foundation, Kickstarter and filmmaker funds
Where can I watch it? We aim to complete the film in 2016.