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Ask the Filmmakers

Filmmakers Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine and development expert Lawrence MacDonald will chat live with viewers at noon EST, Wednesday, July 14. Join the chat now!



POV: Thanks for joining us for this live chat! We’ll begin at 12:00 PM, ET. Please feel free to add your questions and comments now, and a moderator will publish them.

LMacDonald@CGD: Hi happy to be here.

POV: Welcome Lawrence! Happy to have you here.

POV: We are loading up the admin here with questions that have already come in via Twitter, Facebook, our website, etc.

Jeremy Levine: Hi Lawrence, I'm so glad you can join us!

POV: Hi Jeremy, Welcome to you! We are gathering questions and comments for you, and should be ready to get started in five minutes or so.

POV: It looks like we already have a bunch of participants logged in.

POV: Please don't be shy about entering questions and comments. We will get to as many as we can during the next 45 minutes.

POV: I understand that Landon Van Soest, GOOD FORTUNE's director, is on a plane at the moment, but he will log on as soon as he can.

POV: Let's start with a question for Jeremy.

Comment From Sophie
Although you've finished shooting for GOOD FORTUNE, Silva and Jackson's stories are still continuing. Do you have any plans to follow up with them in a few years and see how they've been affected by the Slum Upgrading Project in Kibera and Dominion Farms in the Yala Swamp?

Jeremy Levine: Hi Sophie, thanks for the question. We talk with Jackson and Silva from time to time to check up on them. We don't have immediate plans to continue filming with them but Landon was recently back in Kenya and posted this update on the POV site: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/film_update.php

POV: One tip that I would offer our panelists is to try and hit "send" after each sentence.

POV: To keep the conversation flowing. Thanks!!

Jeremy Levine: Got it.

Comment From Brian
How long did it take you to make this film?

Jeremy Levine: A long time.

Comment From Sandra
This was a great film. I found it of particular interest that they took the approach of 2 different projects and found the same outcome for the people. I was really able to understand both sides of each - what a tough situation, I really felt for the farmers who did not consider themselves poor.

Jeremy Levine: It was about 4 years.

POV: How long were you in Kenya? Did you make several trips?

Jeremy Levine: Sorry for my delay, I was on the phone with Landon who will be logging on shortly!

POV: Oh great.

Jeremy Levine: Thanks Sandra, great to hear that.

Jeremy Levine: We found it was really interesting that a UN project and a business model both had similar outcomes for Jackson and Silva.

Jeremy Levine: We were originally following four stories and found the parallels in these two really compelling.

Jeremy Levine: As far as the production went, Landon spent a year in production on a Fulbright and then made several trips ranging from a few weeks to a few months over the next three years.

POV: Great. This next question is for both Lawrence and Jeremy.

Comment From Juliann
Do you feel like there is a unique attitude, a specific brand of "paternalism," the western world projects onto Africa when administering aid? For instance- is the popular "Aid Africa" complex different from our attitude towards Haiti?

Jeremy Levine: I'd love to hear from Lawrence on this one, but I think there are many similar stories coming out from Haiti now.

LMacDonald@CGD: I don't see a big difference. I think that paternalism -- the idea that we know best -- can be a problem in both places, especially in former colonies.

Comment From Jim
We have come to equate material things with success, just because people don't have our higher "standard of living" does not mean they can't be happy or be rich.

Comment From Susan
Has anybody from Dominion Farms seen the film?

Jeremy Levine: This American Life did a great piece on aid in Haiti recently.

Comment From Susan
What did they say?

Jeremy Levine: You can listen here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/408/island-time

LMacDonald@CGD: It's risky to be romantic about poverty. that said, I was interested in the film that several people said emphatically "I am not poor."

Landon: Hello everyone!

POV: Hi Landon! So glad that you could join us after all.

LMacDonald@CGD: hi landon

Jeremy Levine: Hi Susan, I'm not sure if Dominion has seen the film yet, we haven't gotten a response yet.

Comment From Lindsay
Regarding the development side of this film, how do you react to Americans' attitude that "we should take care of our own"--or that aid money should stay here in the U.S. rather than go abroad?

Landon: Hi Lawrence, thank you for your great response to the film.

Jeremy Levine: I Lindsay, I think that would be a mistake. We in the West do have tremendous resources to help others, it's all in how we carry that out.

Jeremy Levine: In the stories in the film, the aid is largely imposed on the people whereas I've heard of more success stories coming from the grassroots.

Comment From Dinah
What a powerful documentary. Thanks POV.

Comment From Guest
Apparently part of the problem with UN aid is that it is lost in the process of being funneled through the Kenyan government, is there anyway to avoid this step? Also, based on what you saw and your conversations with people on the ground, do you have an opinion on the way the plan for the "slum" was conducted? i.e. should the UN planners have thought that these neighbors, this size street, etc. works for this community and if we improve facilities, maybe we should think about doing it in a way that preserves this space and sizing? It just seems to me that the "slum" grew organically, and certain factors should remain.

Jeremy Levine: Thanks Dinah!

LMacDonald@CGD: Lindsay - It should be obvious to anybody who thinks about it that we are all interconnected now. What happens there matters here. And so much of what we do -- our failure to address climate change, most importantly, but trade, migration, technology policy and more -- have huge impacts on poor people we will never meet. Take care of our own? What does that mean in the 21st century?

Landon: I think that's a complex question Lindsay. On one level I can see the interest in protecting our own economy, but if our money is able to buy generic drugs for 100 people, vs. 10 name brand drugs that come back into our country's pocket, I'd go with the generics every time.

LMacDonald@CGD: Jeremy - Do you worry that your film would discourage people from contributing to charities that help poor people?

Jeremy Levine: Yes, it's a very complicated issue working with governments where it seems a lot of money disappears. I know when Landon was in Kenya last, it coincided with a visit from Joe Biden making a lot of demands of the government if they want to continue receiving aid. This is problematic too, as how do we know what is best for them.

Jeremy Levine: Hi Lawrence, I certainly hope not. My hope is that it can help people think more critically about how to help.

Comment From Steve
Lawrence, you mentioned in your essay that there are policy initiatives that we as citizens can get involved in to effect change abroad. What are some issues that I should be following that are happening right now in terms of legislation?

POV: Jeremy and Landon should feel free to jump in on this question, too.

Landon: I think dealing with local governments is unavoidable, especially for an organization as large as the United Nations. As individual citizens, I think we can do a lot to support more grassroots organizations, but democratic reform is certainly a big part of the puzzle.

Jeremy Levine: I feel like I am just a linking machine today, but we've been working on a series of shorts where we sat down with development experts asking for advice on alternative positive examples of aid, as the last thing we want is for people to turn their backs on giving.

Jeremy Levine: You can see them here: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/expert_interviews.php

POV: Those videos are available on the POV GOOD FORTUNE website. thanks Jeremy!

LMacDonald@CGD: Steve - You can find lots of information about rich world policies that affect poor people -- and how to make them better, at the Center for Global Development where I work! http://www.cgdev.org/

Comment From amy
what would be your advice to individuals who want to do something at this issue?

Landon: I've had several discussions about the possibility of reforming the "Foreign Assistance Act" — a piece of legislation that hasn't been amended since the 60s. You can read more about it here: http://modernizingforeignassistance.net/

Landon: Do you know much about that Lawrence?

LMacDonald@CGD: We don't do direct advocacy, so for a more direct list of actions -- like writing to elected representatives, try the ONE campaign.

Comment From Sascha
Hi. How many Kibera residents have been displaced since the airing of the film? Has the new housing been constructed yet and if so have the residents been able to return?

Jeremy Levine: Hi Amy, I think the film brings up lots of issues. If you want to get involved in land rights, there is a great organization called COHRE that works in Kenya and around the world. http://www.cohre.org/

LMacDonald@CGD: Landon - As it happens, we have new analysis on the draft foreign assistance act just introduced. Much to like, and a few concerns. My colleague Sarah Jane Staats is tracking this closely. You can read her views here: http://blogs.cgdev.org/mca-monitor/2010/07/sneak-peak-at-new-foreign-assistance-act-what-do-you-think.php

Landon: Last fall they moved about 1500 Kibera residents to temporary housing, which was a major landmark in the project. I wrote a bit about it in the "updates" section on the POV site.

POV: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/film_update.php

Landon: Thanks Lawrence, that's great!

Comment From Jonas
Hi Landon/Jeremy, great film! Do you think the film would have benefited by discussing more about successful development projects?

Comment From JS
How much of what you filmed did you expect to find when you started the project? It seems like these were stories where you knew aid was going/had gone wrong. But were you surprised at the extent of the negative impact on those characters?

Jeremy Levine: Amy, also getting involved in this new legislation push would be really beneficial, and I'd recommend seeking out organizations that work with the grassroots.

LMacDonald@CGD: Some people have asked about how to find charities that support development who can be counted on to do good work

Landon: Thanks Jonas. When we started the film, we didn't realize the the projects would have negative outcomes, but thought they were important stories to tell. We're doing a lot of work to explore more effective projects in a video series called "Strides in Development" that you can see on this site.

LMacDonald@CGD: Nick Kristof, the NYT columnist, was recently here at CGD and repeated what he has said in his columns: find a small organization where you can verify the impact of your money and support it.

LMacDonald@CGD: Kristof has done more than perhaps any other journalist to link people in the developing world with problems in poor countries, he travels widely, and he remains convinced that these efforts can make a difference.

POV: Strides in Development videos: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/additional-video.php

Jeremy Levine: Hi Jonas, it was important for us to keep the film grounded in the stories of Jackson and Silva. As Landon mentioned, we've been trying to highlight successful organizations in our work around the film.

Landon: We certainly knew that the projects were controversial and that the characters were taking a particular stand, but we didn't know what the specific outcomes would be.

LMacDonald@CGD: One small organization I like and support is the Arlington Academy of Hope http://www.aidforafrica.org/member-charities/arlington-academy-of-hope/ because it has a link to the community where I live. But there are many others, including the two mentioned on the POV site.

Comment From JS
Great film by the way! I almost stood up and cheered when the broken dam was shown on screen

Jeremy Levine: Our first two videos highlight two great organizations: The Green Belt Movement and FXB International.

Comment From Oscar@CIPE
Here's one thought on how to "do" aid: CGD has indigenous equivalents in Kenya and other developing countries - i.e. think tanks, associations and other civil society groups that bring citizen voices into policymaking. Of course, these counterparts don't have nearly the organizational capacity of CGD--but that's something we the west can help build, without stamping out initiative or imposing our own views and desires on how a society should operate.

Jeremy Levine: http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/

Jeremy Levine: http://www.fxb.org/

Landon: The "Strides in Development" series asks some of the biggest names in the development world to talk about organizations they support, I really hope others will respond with their own ideas of effective organizations and what makes them unique.

Comment From Guest
Is there anything I can do to help Jackson's plight directly?

Comment From Ann
I often wondered where the money I gave ever did become of any use. I would like to sponsor one family. I also think it would be a much happier experience for both of us.

Jeremy Levine: Thanks JS, people actually have cheered when the dam broke at screenings, and it was an amazing feeling when they did.

LMacDonald@CGD: Oscar - Great point. There are a number of efforts under way to support developing country think tanks, including the Global Development Network (GDN) and a major initiative by Hewlett. We hear often from our counterparts in the developing world and I'm convinced that supporting new and emerging tanks is a good investment.

Landon: I personally think the community in the Yala Swamp is in dire need of some decent legal representation. Jackson actually visited several lawyers during production, but didn't have the resources to make a significant case. I would strongly encourage a non-profit legal organization to investigate the community's claims.

Comment From Wapili
Van, Levine & MacDonald - that was a great piece of work. Regarding the Dominion Farm, did you explore whether GM (Genetically Modified) rice seed varieties have been introduced into the Yala swamp ecosystem? On the Kibera Slum Upgrading project - there's a significant clip you had where residents report donor/AID funds for HIV/AIDS being diverted by Kenya's First Lady (Lucy) into a private Highrise building right next to the slum. That makes for breaking news, so far suppressed by Kenya's local media. This nexus between donor funds being siphoned into pockets of bureaucrats (& their families) needs to be out immediately.

Jeremy Levine: Hi Wapili, I'm not sure about the effects of GM rice seed in the area, but I know the community is very nervous about the pesticides that are being sprayed.

LMacDonald@CGD: Ann - Arlington Academy of Hope offers child sponsorships. I recently signed up to be a sponsor.
There have historicaly been problems with these, as described by my colleague David Roodman http://blogs.cgdev.org/open_book/2009/10/kiva-is-not-quite-what-it-seems.php in his examination of Kiva. But I believe that done right they can make a difference, perhaps especially when through small organizations where you can verify how the money is used.

Comment From Lindsay
I appreciate the earlier responses but want to get back to this idea that as our own economy falters, Americans are becoming more insular and are less likely to give to international causes. I often hear complaints that aid money is "just going to corrupt governments anyway"...so how best to deal with this kind of provincial attitude?

LMacDonald@CGD: Lindsay: Focus less on the amounts -- or even aid -- and more on effectiveness and on non-aid ways to make a difference.

Landon: As for the housing built by the first lady Lucy Kibaki — it's a bit difficult to say how many of the rumors are substantiated. Allegations of corruption are thrown around in Kenya all the time and it's hard to prove or disprove them.

Comment From Wren
On the question of 'which organizations to support', one site I like is http://www.givewell.org/. They're trying to be a Consumer's Reports for charitable donors-- you can read through evaluations of various organizations and pick ones that are well-managed and seem to make a difference.

Jeremy Levine: Hi Lindsay, a great question, I'm no policy expert, but I think we can be talking about how a relatively small resource can make such a huge impact in the lives of people abroad. And yes, as Lawrence said, lets focus on more effective aid.

LMacDonald@CGD: too much focus on the amounts -- like aiming for the 0.7 percent of GDP -- not only provokes a backlash, but ultimately may be a problem for the recipients. in my view the problem is not too little aid, but that the aid we have is not used well enough.

Landon: There is an organization called "Global Response" that started a letter writing campaign for the Yala Swamp community: http://www.globalresponse.org/gra.php?i=2/07

Jeremy Levine: I'm interested in following what the Poverty Action Lab and a number of others are doing in terms of actually measuring the success of different aid projects so we can find better ways forward. http://www.povertyactionlab.org/

LMacDonald@CGD: and there is the great profile of PAL leader Esther Duflo in the New Yorker. Don't miss it!

Comment From Kevin
What's been the reaction of the people in the film to it? Especially the UN and Dominion Farms?

Jeremy Levine: Thanks Wren!

Comment From Guest
Thank you so much! I am so glad I caught this on POV!

Jeremy Levine: Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT has an official response to the film here: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/responses_tibaijuka.php

Comment From Maura
The empty houses near the slums - a shocking example of aid gone wrong. Are they still vacant and why aren't the poor allowed access?

POV: We're going to be wrapping up in about 10 minutes, so please submit your questions so we can get to them during the chat. thanks!

Landon: We haven't received an official response from Dominion yet, but Calvin Burgess is a pretty active blogger, and you can read his response to a critical article in Business Week

POV: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_49/b4158038757158.htm

Comment From Jenny
Landon and Jeremy, Great film! What are you guys working on now?

LMacDonald@CGD: What about the UN? I felt a bit sorry for the woman you interviewed. She probably is well intentioned but came off terribly in the film!

Jeremy Levine: As far as I know the houses are still vacant.

Landon: The empty houses outside of Kibera are another pretty complex issue. They were actually being built by a Kenyan politician who got caught in a corruption scandal, and a pending legal investigation has kept the area vacant for over 10 years

Comment From Lisa
The relocation of the Kibera residents presented an interesting conundrum. It seemed that the UN officials did have the best interest of the residents in mind, but at a very steep cost. Are there successful examples of urban renewal projects in developing countries where residents how to be temporarily relocated?

Jeremy Levine: Hi Jenny, we have a few projects in development. We are currently working on a short about a polygamous family living on Lake Victoria.

Jeremy Levine: Shameless plug, but we have more info here: http://kck.st/a7T2zk

Jeremy Levine: The Captain is an intimate portrait of a polygamous family on the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria. Okech, the patriarch, struggles to evade fisheries officers and provide for his family using illegal fishing nets, while his wives, Rose and Perez, grapple with the consequences of alcoholism, infidelity, and HIV infection. The Captain presents a unique and holistic view of modern poverty through one family’s relationship with the environment, health, and personal responsibility.

Landon: Thanks for asking Jenny! We're working on a short film called "The Captain" about a polygamous fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria. We're really looking for support to finish the edit, please pass along our kickstarter page: http://kck.st/a7T2zk

POV: In answer to Lisa, we have a map feature on the POV site put together by Jeremy and Landon's team, that highlights other recent or ongoing relocation projects around the globe.

Landon: There are a number of different examples of urban renewal and slum-upgrading. Check out the map feature we put together for this page, and again, post others if you know of them!

POV: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/photo_gallery_development_map.php

Jeremy Levine: Lawrence, I don't think Sara, the UN woman in the film, is too thrilled with the film though we have a lot of people who've watched the film say they felt bad for her. That she clearly had good intentions and was caught in a tough situation.

Comment From Sandra Yameogo
Where were the residents of Kibera relocated to???

POV: Check out the film update for more on the people in the film.

POV: http://www.pbs.org/pov/goodfortune/film_update.php

Landon: Sara definitely had good intentions and was very forth coming off-camera. Unfortunately, she seemed to give much more "official" responses on-camera that made her come across less compassionate that she actually is in my opinion.

POV: I think we are going to wrap up the chat now. Thanks again to all of you -- Landon, Jeremy and Lawrence -- for your participation.

LMacDonald@CGD: you also shot her at angles that made her appear untrustworthy!

Jeremy Levine: Well, I don't think we did that intentionally.

Landon: Really?! If so, there weren't malicious intentions in the camera work.

LMacDonald@CGD: Thanks to Landon and Jeremy for a great film, and to POV for hosting this!

Jeremy Levine: Thanks Lawrence for being here and thanks POV!

POV: We are so happy to host these live chats.

Jeremy Levine: I hope this is just the beginning of a conversation.

POV: Thanks to all of our viewers for such great comments and questions.

LMacDonald@CGD: Maybe is just seemed that way to me. The Kenyans who were victims of the project usually spoke directly to the camera.

Landon: Thanks again to you Lawrence and of course to POV for all of their incredible support!

Jeremy Levine: And that people will continue looking for better ways forward.

Comment From Wapili
We are against slums, not slum dwellers.

Comment From Oscar@CIPE
Here's a story from another example of slum relocations gone bad...this time in Morocco: http://www.cipe.org/blog/?p=5616

POV: I'm sorry we couldn't get to all the questions, but thank you for participating!

POV: This chat will be available here on our website, so folks can replay it and share it.

POV: Thanks again! Godbye everyone!





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It’s important that we, as Western citizens, do what we can to combat extreme poverty. I hope this film can be the beginning of a discussion, and I hope that the way we administer aid in the future can change as a result.”

— Landon Van Soest, Filmmaker

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