Ah, isn’t it nice when things work out for the best? Take, for example, POV’s new partnership with the Brooklyn Museum, which, last week, hosted a screening of POV’s 2010 film Good Fortune. It’s a natural fit, POV and the Brooklyn Museum, the two institutions share the same demographic. After all, most of New York’s doc community probably lives in the borough. But I was concerned about the turnout, thanks to the umpteenth snowstorm that had fallen the night before practically bringing the city to a standstill.

But it didn’t stop doc lovers. A good-sized audience showed up for the screening, kicking off a good thing for the alliance (the next screening, of POV’s Off and Running, will be on February 24). Indeed, good omens and good starts were very much the subject of Good Fortune, the film by director Landon Van Soest and producer/editor Jeremy Levine. It’s about two economic development projects in Kenya, both seemingly bringing “good fortune” to the impoverished people, but, alas, the results appear to be anything but.

For one, there’s Dominion Farms, which pours a ton of money into developing a rice farm, which its minders say will help raise the standard of living of the people there. But, the only thing that rises is the floodwater caused by Dominion’s dam, bringing about suffering for the local people. Meanwhile, the United Nations and the government of Kenya try to develop a slum, but the people are skeptical, and they are eventually driven from their homes.

It’s not a happy story, not one in which things work out for the best, which is why Van Soest and Levine should be applauded for making such an honest film, one that depicts both sides of the relationship, and also for using a title that really pinpoints the complex irony of foreign aid to developing nations.

And the irony doesn’t stop there, as I indicate in my opening line. Good fortune actually did befall the screening itself. I think it was a great success. A strong film, a sizable, engaged audience, and a Q&A, conducted with Levine, was unusually intelligent and comprehensive. Questions came from all over the audience, and Levine handled them cogently.

There was a bit of edge brought on by a woman who asked, as one should, what had been done for the subjects of the film. But things were brought into perspective by a man in the audience from Malawi who congratulated Levine for making a great film, adding, and I’m paraphrasing here: “You’re a filmmaker, that’s your job. My job is to go to Africa and make it a better place.”

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen