Five summers ago, I arrived in the Wilmington firehouse for my first day of work as a summer intern at Working Films. Three days later, I got appendicitis and was rushed into surgery. And one week ago, I watched Good Fortune, a feature documentary I produced and edited, air on POV on PBS. All of these events feel connected to me, I’m just not sure how exactly.
Perhaps it’s the surreal feeling to it all—arriving to work the first day confused to find a firehouse in place of a standard office building, being rapidly wheeled across the ER by a bunch of strange nurses with strong Carolinian accents, and watching, after five years of blood, sweat, and tears, your film beam out to millions of people.
I worked with director Landon Van Soest to tell the stories of Jackson and Silva, two Kenyans whose lives are being destroyed by massive, international development projects. We followed them as they, along with their friends and neighbors, banned together to fight back to protect their community. It was empowering to see their fight, and we felt their stories served as a cautionary tale against imposing aid on a community. So it was an amazing feeling to know that their stories were being watched across the country last Tuesday.
But POV was involved in more than the broadcast. They worked with us to develop discussion guides, community screenings, and an interactive and ridiculously in-depth website. The site features updates on the film, videos exploring positive alternatives to development (made possible by our friends at the Fledgling Fund), an interactive map showcasing similar examples around the world, and more information about foreign aid and Kenya. But perhaps the feature I’m most excited about are the responses to the film by development experts. My favorite was from Erica Hagen of Map Kibera, who showed the film to a group of youths in Kibera. She describes their response this way: “They said ‘This is the truth. This is what it is like to live in Kibera. This is the kind of thing that happens to us. Someone comes by and marks our house with a red X, or cuts our power line, or tells us a new scheme has just been passed and it’s time for us to fall in line.’”
This was the most gratifying thing we could have read as filmmakers. We are continuing our work with the film and hope to bring it back to the communities in East Africa. We are also finishing a companion film, The Captain, about a polygamous family on the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria that a presents holistic view of modern poverty by exploring the family’s relationship with the poverty, health, and environmental conservation.
And we hope the POV broadcast and our campaign beyond will help advocate for a rethinking of aid and development. Change needs to come from the grassroots; when it is imposed on a community, things often don’t turn out as they are planned.