Doc offers new perspective on foreign aid

By Amy Badry

What Are We Doing Here is a documentary filmed and produced by three brothers and a cousin after a six-month jaunt to Africa. The quartet set off to Africa to explore the role of foreign aid and impact of western development agencies on the continent.

“Too often the same stories are recycled about Africa,” says Tim Klein. “We hear about corruption, about famine, about war again and again and again. We wanted to tell a different story, focusing on some of the solutions.”

On a budget of $10-a-day Tim and his cousins — Brandon, Nicholas and Daniel Klein — travelled from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa asking questions and filming what they saw.

“What we really learned was that development agencies and non-governmental-organizations can play a positive role, but ultimately if the problems in Africa are going to be any different in 30 or 40 years it is going to be because of Africans changing their own countries,” he explains.

Ethiopia has required food aid for 11 of the past 13 years, says Tim. As agriculture is a prominent industry in Africa, it is hard for farmers to compete in the market place against free food. Tim says foreign food aid is creating dependency and is not sustainable for the country.

“Unfortunately, what happens is what is meant to be short-term emergency aid turns into long-term aid,” says Klein. “Good intentions don’t equal good results.”

“The best development projects we saw were people working in their own communities to educate and develop,” says Klein.

In Cape Town hip-hop artist Emile uses dance as a form of political expression and as a way to teach kids social conscience.

“Emile showed [the kids] another side that isn’t just about guns and glamour,” says Tim. “He was communicating through music and dance and that is ultimately where change will happen, is through communication and education. The kids were definitely learning something about themselves and about their situation.”

The documentary was filmed using two high definition camcorders, a new technology that allows crystal clear images on the cheap. “In the past 10 years, there has been some real technological breakthroughs that mean independent filmmakers don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a high quality film,” explains Klein.

The four relatives gathered 380 hours of footage during their journey and spent a year editing the film.

“[It is] difficult to get footage that you want to show. It took us awhile to find our story,” says Klein. “[We wanted to] get into the nitty-gritty about the problems. We wanted to tell a complex story and ask more in-depth questions.”

Klein advocates for western aid organizations to play a more supporting role in development work and collaborate with the leaders of the communities, whether it is politicians or musicians.

“This is a problem that will only be solved by Africans.”

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