Why Poverty? Launches Global Conversation

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NEW YORK CITY, New York – Why Poverty? is a groundbreaking series of movies, comprising eight 60-minute documentaries by award-winning film makers and over 30 short films produced by new and emerging talents. The films were screened worldwide in November 2012 on more than 70 national broadcasters. The eight films are co-productions of Independent Television Service (ITVS) and STEPS International.

Using broadcast television and new media, Why Poverty? aims to create a global conversation on the world’s poverty crises by asking pertinent questions in the eight documentaries such as:

  • Do we know what poverty is?
  • Is it worse to be born poor than to die poor?
  • What does an education get you?
  • How much profit is fair?
  • How do you feed the world?
  • How do you change the world?

Why Poverty? was officially launched at the United Nations Secretariat on September 27, 2012, which featured keynote speeches by the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

Eliasson, the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, emphasized that active engagement is one of the keys to successful poverty eradication strategies.

“Everyone of the eight powerful documentaries will affect you,” said 
HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark at the U.N. launch.

In March, the prestigious Peabody Awards, which is the oldest award in broadcasting presented by the University of Georgia, recognized all eight documentaries.

Why Poverty? documentaries are now available free to view online and for download in English, Spanish and Portuguese. There are educational resources, which can be used as teaching tools to start conversations on global poverty.

Solar Mamas

Directed by Mona Eldaief and Jehane Noujaim.

What is inspiring about this documentary is that it is a story of change. The film opens with the question: Are women better at getting out of poverty than men? It traces the life of ordinary, uneducated women who are set on course to change the world. The film focuses on 32-year-old Rafea Anad, from Jordan. She is a Bedouin woman with four children, and they live in a tent in a village near a desert. With only five years of education, Refea is illiterate. Along with several other women from around the world, Refea heads to Barefoot College in India to become certified solar engineers in six months.

“Before I went, I was an uneducated woman who knew nothing,” said Rafea. She explained how she learned to make light powered by solar energy using circuit boards and other equipment.

“Now, I want to change the role of women in Manshiat Al.”

Rafea and other trainees return to their home country as alternative energy experts. In spite of objections from the men in her village, Rafea persists in bringing solar power to her village.

Solar Mamas won the Peabody Award, 2013 and the Oxfam Novib Global Justice Award. It was also shortlisted for the One World Media Awards.

Land Rush

Produced by Hugo Berkeley and directed by Osvalde Lewat.

Land Rush is a poignant reminder of the land grievances in Africa. The film highlights the question that every Mali’s peasant farmers ponder over: “Is this our land?” or “Is this government’s land?”

Mali is one of Africa’s poorest nations; 75% of its population work as farmers. This film documents an American visionary project to transform Mali into a sugar transporting nation, planning for an extensive sugar cane operation on the banks of the Niger River and intending to involve displaced famers in the value chain as contract farmers. The film outlines the lives of peasant farmers through Massa Sanogo and Kassoum, who has fed their families and communities as their forefathers had for generations, and traces their reactions to new development policy affecting the land on which they live.

The film shows behind-the-scenes footage of the sugar project to tell the story of African poverty, and compels the viewer to question the ethical boundaries of their own beliefs and the price tag of what is acceptable in the name of progress and development.

Land Rush has created a positive impact on the international community. Oxfam campaigned to advocate for food and beverage companies to recognize community land rights and it has already seen results. On November 8, Coca-Cola responded as the largest purchaser of sugar in the world, and made the commitment to stop land grabs within its own supply chain.

Coca-Cola has committed to the following actions:

  • Coca-Cola will commit its bottlers to do the same.
  • Coca-Cola will conduct and publish social, environmental and human rights assessments, including conflicts, starting in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Philippines, Thailand and South Africa.
  • Coca-Cola promised to connect with governments and international bodies to support responsible land right practices.
  • Coca-Cola will publicly disclose its largest sugarcane suppliers.

“Coca-Cola has taken an important step to show its consumers and the communities it relies upon that it aims to be a part of the solution to land grabs. This will resonate throughout the industry,” wrote Judy Beals on the Oxfam website. Beals is the campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Campaign.

Land Rush won Peabody Award 2013 and Good Pitch, London 2011 and 
was nominated for NY African Film Festival, 2013 as well as IDFA, 2012
 and Best Documentary for One World Media Awards, 2013.

Stealing Africa

Produced by Henrik Veileborg and directed by Christopffer Guidbrandsa.

This documentary gives a reality check in asking “How much profit is enough?” It discusses how multinational corporations (MNCs) are motivated by high profits and work against the interests of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

The film compares Switzerland and Africa’s wealth status in relation to the copper mining industry. Although copper prices are booming, Africa has not been elevated out of the poverty cycle. It details the role and exploit of Glenncore, an MNC that has been profiting from copper industry in Zambia by tax avoidance, which is shifting profit artificially into low-tax countries. The film strongly points out that such MNCs has not only extracted copper and wealth from Zambia, but also extracted hope from its nationals for a better prosperous future.

Stealing Africa won the Peabody Award, 2013.

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream

Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room).

The documentary opens with the question, “How much inequality is too much?” It showcases the glitz and glamor of 740 Park Avenue of New York where the rich and famous reside, and compares it with South Bronx, home to America’s poorest. Park Avenue is used as a vivid metaphor for America’s unequal wealth distribution.

What are the chances of someone living in the Bronx to end up living in the Park Avenue? To answer this question, the film cites two studies done by experts: Paul Piff, social psychologist and post-doctoral scholar in the Psychology Department at the University of California, Berkeley, on the psychology of wealth, and secondly, Jacob Hacker, author of Winner Takes All. The film also discusses how the lobbying industry became entrenched with Washington D.C. politics and why America drastically lags behind other nations in terms of upward mobility.

It nostalgically closes with a final scene of the bridge that connects Park Avenue and Bronx: Will this bridge between Park Avenue and the Bronx become the symbolic bridge to economic equality and prosperity?

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream won the Peabody Award 2013.

Give Us the Money

Directed by Bosse Lindquist and produced by David Herdies.

Can celebrity influence be a force for global change? This documentary examines the impact of two rock stars, Bob Geldof and Bono along with their campaigns in ending poverty in Africa. Moved by what they experienced in Africa, they set up the largest Live Aid concert the world has ever seen. Live Aid concert disclosed the plight of Africans by showing scenes of Ethiopians dying in famine. Although it successfully raised $1 billion for Africa, it did not solve the long-term issues of poverty.

What is the real of value of currency? Geldof and Bono press on in using the value of their currency, or rather their celebrity influence, to impact policies, politics and governments on African poverty. The film depicts the mixed successes of the duo’s high-profile campaign in alleviating poverty in Africa: Bono’s Drop the Debt and Bob Geldof’s Make Poverty History.

Although, it is hard to determine the true impact of Bono and Geldof’s efforts, the film acknowledges that it was a step forward. Since then, HIV treatment has reached 6 million people, malaria deaths have been halved in eight countries and there are 1,700 fewer children deaths per day.

Give Us the Money won the Peabody Award, 2013.

Education, Education

Directed by Weijun Chen and produced by Don Edkins.

Set in Wuhan, China, the documentary highlights the predicament of young Chinese seeking education as a way out of poverty. In 1997, the Chinese government privatized universities. With privatization, college fees increased drastically, subsequently making higher education a prized commodity and an almost unattainable dream for the poor.

Education, Education follows the lives of three people: Wang Pan, a young girl hoping to enter into college; Wan Chao, a new college graduate; and Teacher Wang with Hongbo College. Their life story clearly illustrates the difficulties of upward mobility for those without quality education, and how unaccredited colleges exploit the situation.

Teacher Wang is the voice of conscience. He is the recruiter for Hongbo College and shares how the school uses scams to recruit students. Graduate Wan Chao is the voice of self-worth. He studied International Finance and Trade, and works hard to find a job, only to be disappointed with his inability to get a job. Wan Pan is the voice of hope. Her parents are poor, but they raise money from family and friends to send their only daughter to college.

The film is a realistic depiction of China’s youth today. In the last decade, the number of colleges has increased 30 times, and each year, more than two million graduates remain unemployed.

Education, Education won the Peabody Award, 2013.

Poor Us: An Animated History of Poverty

Directed by Ben Lewis and produced by Fenke Wolting and Bruno Felix.

This documentary explores poverty from a historical point of view. It brings the viewer on a journey from the earliest civilization, when men were hunters and gathers to the era of colonization, capitalism, industrialization communism, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, formation of the U.N., Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the present modern day world.

The film differentiates itself from the other documentaries by using a combination of animation, archival footage, interviews of various experts and anecdotal humor. Poor Us is an attempt to examine man’s efforts in alleviating poverty throughout history, in the hope that the viewer will gain a stronger sense of knowing how to move forward in addressing global poverty around the world.

Poor Us: An Animated History of Poverty won the Peabody Award, 2013, and was shortlisted for the One World Media Awards.

Welcome to the World

Directed by Brian Hill and produced by Katie Bailiff.

The film documents real births in Sierra Leone, Cambodia and the United States and examines a baby’s options in three of these countries. It follows the story of three pregnant women, Neang, 36, from Cambodia, Hawa, 25, from Sierra Leone and Starr, 37, from the U.S. All three mothers give birth to a child, but only one out of the three babies survive. The film highlights a poignant question: Is it worse to be born poor or to die poor?

Welcome to the World looks at the issues of poverty through the eyes of mothers and draws attention to the high maternal mortality rate, and lack of access to healthcare for the poor in the developing world that could easily be resolved with the right resources.

Welcome to the World won the Peabody Award, 2013.

Flora Khoo

Sources/Photo: Why Poverty? Public Broadcasting Service, Oxfam, Hugo Berkeley

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About Author

Flora is from Singapore and she graduated from Regent University with a master’s degree in Journalism. She was drawn to The Borgen Project because of her love for writing and interest in international development issues. She speaks both English and Mandarin and enjoys canoeing.

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