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7 Top Movies Focusing on International Development Issues

Poverty, Inc. is a documentary focusing on the hidden side of aid and development. Featuring over 150 interviews with well-known aid organizations and both global and local leaders in development, this project spans 4 years and 20 countries looking at the potential harmful and disastrous impact of Western aid and development. In particular, it explores and exposes the multi-billion-dollar market of NGOs, for-profit contractors, and multilateral agencies involved in development. In times when foreign aid has actually increased poverty, this film asks the question, are we the problem?

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google play, PlayStation, Vimeo, Vudu, VHX

Good Fortune looks at Western aid in Africa and its lack of effectiveness in decreasing poverty or increasing social stability. This documentary is filmed from the perspective of those resisting foreign aid and development projects in Kenya, believing that these projects will devastate their communities instead of help them. The film focuses on various slum-upgrading projects that the Kenyan government and United Nations have started to implement. However, previous projects led to the exploitation of housing for profit. The story goes behind the scenes of local individuals who are working to protect their livelihoods and, even when they fail, are delivering a wakeup call to the international development community.

Where to watch: DVD, host a screening, check PBS broadcast schedule

Half the Sky is a documentary that follows Nicholas Kristof and various celebrity activists through 10 countries to meet inspiring women. The film looks at various challenges that women and girls face across the globe, including trafficking, prostitution, violence, discrimination, economic disparity, and more. It also seeks to explore the solutions and innovative ways that women are working to change and improve their situations. The documentary wants to put faces to the statistics and facts about the disadvantages women and girls face every day. It also seeks to show the perseverance and courage that these women show, working to change their lives and situations for themselves and the future generations.

Where to watch: iTunes, DVD

Life and Debt looks at the lives of Jamaicans whose lives are driven by US and other foreign economic agendas. The documentary discusses the foreign factories and explores the lives of factory workers, many of whom faced unemployment and blacklisting after speaking out against their low wages and poor working conditions. It also looks at a local chicken plant, where the product is being undercut by cheaper, low-grade chicken coming in from the US. The film also explores the banana industry and the fight over the banana market with the UK and US. Jamaica’s milk production is also featured, after an unexpected downsize due to Western trade policies and practices. Life and Debt aims to show the hardships and challenges that have been placed on Jamaica’s once-thriving industries because of trade policies and practices in the West, especially through the IMF and the World Bank, whose efforts to increase economic prosperity in the country have led to greater disparity.

Where to watch: Amazon, check PBS broadcast schedule

Based on a book by the same name, Beyond Good Intentions explores what really works and doesn’t work in international aid. Filmed in 8 countries, this series of 10 short films seeks to start a meaningful discussion about the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and international development. The films follow Tori Hogan as she meets with various aid workers and community members to talk about the role of aid in communities throughout Colombia, Argentina, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. Her goal is to explore what development practices are truly effective and what practices are merely good intentions that fall short of actually improving the lives of the poor and vulnerable. The film series’ goal is to start a discussion and move towards change within international development practices and organizations.

Where to watch: Film website, YouTube

Girl Rising tells the stories of nine girls, each from a different country: Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Peru, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. Each one of them works to overcome the odds against them to achieve their dreams. In particular, it focuses on the power of education and the strength of the human spirit that lead these girls to want to change the world. The film highlights the importance of education for girls in the developing world and shows viewers the importance of supporting development programs through organizations that are working to help these girls be safe, learning, and healthy.

Where to watch: DVD, Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, iTunes, host a screening

Moolaadé is a Senegalese, French-language film that addresses the issue of female genital mutilation. Set in Burkina Faso, the main character Collé works to stop the practice of female genital cutting in her own village. Refusing to have the practice done on her own daughter, even after her daughter requests it, Collé leads the elders in the village to turn against her family, so she creates a magical protection for herself, her family, and four other little girls who also refuse to be cut. Collé’s daughter’s fiancé even joins in to protest against the practice, having gained education and an open mind in France. After an immense struggle against the village, Collé unites many of the village woman against this practice and eventually many others come to her side as well.

Where to watch: YouTube, Amazon, DVD