At the Edge of Chaos

Inside Disaster is a multi-platform project from Toronto-based PTV Productions, in which documentary and multimedia production teams are embedded with the Red Cross Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT) to capture its responses to major natural disasters. Twelve hours after a 7.0 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti, the first crew from PTV was at the airport. Director/co-producer Nadine Pequeneza and DOP/co-director Stefan Randstrom were part of the three teams in Haiti, and they each sent along their impressions of documenting the unimaginable.
March 1, 2010

Haiti is a difficult country to shoot in, in the best of times. The extreme poverty, poor infrastructure and street crime complicate the job of a production crew. After the earthquake these challenges increased exponentially. Communications were out, roads were blocked, and gas stations were closed. Perhaps the one thing that made our job easier was that everyone wanted the story to get out, so no one asked us not to film.

Being documentarians it’s our goal to get the big picture, not just a snapshot. In a disaster zone it’s difficult to get the real story amongst the chaos. After a quake people’s circumstances can vary drastically within a city block, and everything is in a state of constant flux. In Port-au-Prince there were 1,000,000 people in need of shelter, and some 500 makeshift camps. Depending on where you went, and whom you talked to, the story you recorded was completely different. Over the month that we were in Haiti we visited camps that had water, latrines, shelter and food, but also others that had seen zero international assistance.

Gathering and sorting through information was further complicated by the fact that things weren’t always as they appeared. An example: five days after the quake, street vendors started to reappear. People were selling drinks, food, toiletries, even shoes and clothes. They gave the appearance of a community on the mend, but what we learned is that in some cases they were driving the most vulnerable people into absolute poverty. Aid agencies would see these vendors in the camps and pass them by; meanwhile, inside the camp, mothers would be selling the clothing off their backs to buy food to feed their children. People were using their last resources to stay alive.

How humanitarian organizations respond to this type of situation is the billion-dollar question. Food distributions can weaken a country’s agricultural economy, and over the past decades it appears that aid in Haiti has done just that. Kick-starting an economy after a disaster is a story that most media aren’t around long enough to tell. That’s why we’re going back in July to find out how this story ends.

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.