Poverty uncovered: part one

Next year broadcasters from across the world will unite to launch Why Poverty?, a multi-million dollar series of films examining the issues surrounding global poverty. In the first installment of a two-part feature, series editors Nick Fraser and Mette Hoffmann Meyer exclusively reveal the project's flagship titles.
May 30, 2011

Next year broadcasters from across the world will unite to launch Why Poverty?, a multi-million dollar series of films examining the issues surrounding global poverty. In the first installment of a two-part feature, series editors Nick Fraser and Mette Hoffmann Meyer exclusively reveal the project’s flagship titles.

November 2012 will see a range of broadcasters from across the globe uniting to launch one of the biggest factual coproductions of the decade so far.

The Why Poverty? initiative, a successor to 2007′s Why Democracy? project, will consist of eight or nine feature-length documentaries (depending on funding), and a number of shorts and online initiatives. At the heart of the project will be one simple question: ‘Why, in the 21st Century, do a billion people still live in poverty?’

Spearheading the global documentary collaboration is South Africa-based campaigning organization Steps International, along with UK public broadcaster the BBC and Danish pubcaster DRTV.

Other organizations committed include networks in Japan (NHK), Holland (VPRO), Sweden (SVT), Norway (NRK), Finland (YLE) and the Middle East (MBC); as well the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Danish Film Institute, the Bertha Foundation and the European Broadcasting Union.

“We believe that you have to understand the mechanism of poverty and why people are poor,” says DRTV’s commissioning editor for documentaries Mette Hoffmann Meyer, who – along with Nick Fraser, editor of the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ strand – is overseeing the project. “What we really want to do is change perceptions.”

Fraser adds: “If you go back 30 years, people thought that the solution to poverty was aid. But in the last 15 years, the real problem has been how the poorest countries have been run.”

The series follows the highly influential Why Democracy? series, which was screened by 48 broadcasters worldwide and notably produced Alex Gibney’s Oscar-winner Taxi To The Dark Side. A number of award-winning directors have already been commissioned for the new project, including Weijun Chen, Ben Lewis and Brian Hill.

According to Hoffmann Meyer, “there are a lot of filmmakers who really want to make a difference and want to participate in something bigger.” She adds that public broadcasters “have to be brave – there are a lot of people watching but many networks are afraid to take big, broad documentaries. But if we work together, we can create something bigger than we can individually.”

So far some 33 broadcasters have committed to the Why Poverty? project, with a target of around 48 by 2012. For the first time, realscreen can reveal details of the first six feature-length documentaries commissioned for the project.

Welcome To The World

Directed by Brian Hill / Produced by Century Films

UK indie Century Films’ documentary examines infant mortality and the differing chances a child has in life depending on where he or she is born. Shot all over the world, the film will look at the circumstances of the parents, their hopes for their soon-to-arrive child, and international differences in customs and practices regarding pregnancy and childbirth.

At its core is the notion that by knowing the details of a child’s circumstances and environment on its first day on the planet, you can broadly predict how the rest of its life will unfold. “The first day of a child’s life more or less defines that person’s life,” says Fraser.

The film is being produced by Katie Bailiff and directed by Brian Hill, whose films for the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV in the UK have won awards from bodies such as BAFTA and the RTS. “Brian has done lots of great documentaries, most notably Feltham Sings, where he went into a young offenders’ institution and filmed people singing about their lives,” Fraser says.


Stealing Africa
Stealing Africa

Directed by Christoffer Guldbrandsen / Produced by Stine Meldgaard

Spanning many months and countries, the documentary follows African journalists on an investigation to expose the scale of corruption throughout the continent. However, in addition to looking at corruption in Africa, the film will also look at the countries whose governments house the corporations that benefit most from corruption.

Taking Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index as its starting point, the doc will look to form a new ‘Financial Intergrity Index,’ to outline which countries and firms benefit the most from the plundering of Africa’s resources.

The project, directed by Christoffer Guldbrandsen (Fogh Behind the Façade, The President) and produced by Stine Meldgaard, will examine “who the guilty parties are, and who is benefitting from the corruption in Africa,” according to Hoffmann Meyer.

She adds of Guldbrandsen: “He’s the best Danish director, but he has done mostly Danish subject stories on politics to date. He’s just finishing a film about politics in the EU, and he has an amazing filmic and journalistic mind.”

How To Do Good
How To Do Good

Directed by Bosse Lindquist / Produced by Filmfront

The ambitious How to do Good will look broadly at how, over the past 20 years, the nature of global philanthropy has changed, with a rise in private initiatives and global campaigns replacing the predominant thinking that government aid should be the solution to global poverty.

The film will look at worldwide campaigns such as Make Poverty History and Drop The Debt, delving into how rock stars such as Bono and Bob Geldof have managed to make fighting global impoverishment a sexy subject. “Some 35 million people signed up to the Make Poverty History campaign,” offers Fraser. “But does it work, can it work?”

The doc promises to take viewers behind the scenes of these campaigns, investigating their successes and failures, while looking at the “glitzy celebrities, leftist revolutionaries and conservative congressmen” who changed the world by enlisting dot-com billionaires, fashion models, rock concerts and the web to help lobby politicians and establish themselves as advocates for the poor.

The film is directed by Swedish filmmaker Bosse Lindquist (The Genius and the Boys) and produced by David Herdies.

Part two of this feature publishes tomorrow.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.