As filmmaker Michele Mitchell prepares to screen her new documentary film, "Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?," on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, the American Red Cross is scrambling to defend itself against the film's implication that NGOs misused the billions of dollars they raised for Haitian earthquake victims.
Mitchell's documentary, which was produced by Mitchell's company Film At 11 and is currently airing across the country on PBS, investigates where donors' money went and why so little appears to have been accomplished on the ground in Haiti. The film shows that half a million people are still living in tent camps with little or no access to toilets or drinkable water, and one refugee reports having to pay $12 for a tarp, which should have been provided for free.
A senior Red Cross official for international aid is interviewed extensively throughout the film, and Mitchell said she repeatedly asked ARC to answer questions and corroborate facts during the production process.
But ARC spokesperson Laura Howe said people at the organization were "blindsided" by Mitchell's film and disappointed that they weren't able to see it before it was delivered to PBS. ARC released a fiery response to the documentary on Monday, asserting that many of the facts of the film are inaccurate and that it "has a point of view that nothing has been done" in Haiti.
"It is unfortunate that Film@11 did not make any effort to see any of the work the Red Cross is doing on the ground in Haiti or visit any of our programs, but instead made assumptions about our work that have no basis in fact," the statement says. "It is unfair and untrue to imply that because many people are still in camps that no one has received aid. Two-thirds of the people have left the camps and well over 100,000 people have been moved into transitional housing provided by the Red Cross."
The ARC released a document disputing a number of allegations in the film, including that ARC is diverting the interest it earns on Haiti donations back into the organization's general fund instead of to the Haiti relief effort. ARC says it did direct interest back to itself "for a short period in 2010," but that the money now goes back into the Haiti operating budget.
The organization also disputed some of the film's on-the-ground observations, such as the torn tents and lack of clean water.
Mitchell says no one from ARC ever reached out to her to request corrections or point out inaccuracies in her film, and she wonders how anyone can argue against her perceptions of the way Haitian refugees are currently living, since she spent time down there and personally witnessed their situation.
"The thing is, I went to Haiti twice ten months after the earthquake to see what was happening, and then at the 20-month mark, and we have pictures," she told HuffPost. "The camp situation had deteriorated. There were camps of 5,000 people with six toilets between them. There were millions of people in tents during the hurricane, and they were terrified. I like happy endings, and I wish I could report that 'disaster relief 2.0' had worked, but the picture tells a different story."
The ARC has already been forced to defend itself numerous times from criticism of its relief efforts in Haiti, after Hurricane Katrina, and after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
"All we've ever asked for is that our services be presented in a balanced and accurate manner," Howe said.