“Tunahaki” (film festival winner) shows 200 ways good intentions lead to bad results.
POSTSCRIPT at the beginning. Please read Grace Mkombozi's comment below and my response. Grace shows us that we cannot know the truth--especially looking in from the outside. Even in documentaries what is documented can be very different than what we see on the screen. I have done enough community development work in the United States and abroad to know that there are as many politics and back stories in these situations as in any corporation. Reading Grace's comments I now realize that my outrage needs the leavening balance of someone closer to the situation. --Janet Riehl
Come on out to the Africa World Documentary Film Festival!
Do you live in St. Louis? Care about film? Want to know more about what remains "the Dark Continent" in American media? Involved in community and international development? Love children? Committed to peace?
If so, before I get all "het up" (as we say in the country), let me urge you to dash over to the Missouri History Museum to see the last three days of the 4th annual Africa World Documentary Film Festival . Niyi Coker, Jr., the E. Desmond Lee Professor at University of Missouri at St. Louis directs the festival with arms in Barbados and Cameroon.
"Helpers are con men, interfering."
founder of Gestalt Psychology
During the mid-1970s I lived and worked in Africa (Botswana and Ghana) for five years. I saw a lot, thought a lot, learned a lot about culture and development work. Through the lens of that on the ground education I viewed the film "Tunahaki".
"Tunahaki" is a case study in 200 things to do wrong in international development and cross-cultural understanding. Yet, it's billed as "The extraordinary story of nine gifted orphans and their journey from Africa to America."
There are three major things wrong with the world this picture shows us. 1) The film itself; 2) The conceptual framework (or lack); 3) What actually happens as a result of #2. There are maybe 5 things right.
So, what happens?
TUNAHAKI begins at an orphanage in Tanzania. We meet the children who are acrobats, a skill they learned from “Teacher-David”, a poor man who runs Tunahaki. Scott Fifer, an American, takes a volunteer vacation and ends up there. He makes a bold commitment: “I’m going to bring the kids to America, raise money and build them a permanent home.” The whirlwind tour raises hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"After I saw 'Hotel Rwanda' I felt ashamed to be human," Scott Fifer says as "Tunahaki" begins. From this promising beginning, Scott's good intentions quickly start a downward spiral. He doesn't know. But, within the first five minutes I knew, as many others in America must, that this formula was a no-brainer for tragic consequences. The audience in Barbados and Cameroon knew. To sit in the audience of "Tunahaki" made me feel, once again, ashamed to be an American. Ashamed to be white.
What's wrong with this picture?
1) Mason Bendewald embarks on a documentary tracing the philanthropic journey of Scott Fifer in Tanzania. Although his director's statement is thoughtful and aware, the point of view of the film isn't clear until the the last five minutes.
2) The hero throughout most of the film is American Scott Fifer who becomes the sponsor of the project to bring these talented, well-behaved Tanzanian children for a week in southern California and Las Vegas.
The hero of this piece should be "Teacher-David", who founded the orphanage that becomes a home for homeless children. While his full name is mentioned in the film, I cannot find it in any of "Tunahaki's" on-line promotion.
What's wrong with the conceptual development model? Why is it the anti-model for sane and sustainable development?
1) Rescue Model. People in developing countries need to be rescued by people in developed countries. (Previously called "Third World," and "First World"). This is a model that has proved not to work for centuries. Didn't Scott Fifer get the memo?
The rescue here becomes quite literal as the children are "air-lifted" out of their village into the flashiest, most superficial parts of the United States.
2) Bigger is Better. Dramatic is Better.
3) Good intentions are enough.
What's wrong with what happens and how it happens?
1) The children's expectations are raised to impossible levels.
2) There's a huge disconnect between the world they come from and the world they go to.
3) There's an egregiously false and contorted picture of America in the places they are taken.
4) I'll get back to you later in the day...
Scott Fifer seems to have learned a lot, too. After his Tunahaki experiment went south, he set up Go Campaign, which, we hope, is doing the good it says it is.
4 Responses »
Leave a Response