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Local film makers want to spur debate about Africa

Posted at 2:49 PM on May 4, 2009 by Euan Kerr

Tim Klein says "What are we doing here?" started with a canoe trip. The film gets its US premiere screening tonight and Wednesday at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis.

Klein and three of his cousins were talking about the about the impact of US aid in Africa. He says the conversation "started with a dissatisfaction for our options for giving."

"We were at a family reunion floating down the St Croix river in a canoe and had a three hour passionate conversation about this and decided right there to make this film and that was about three years ago," he says.

Tim had studied Africa and its history in college. Like his cousins, after school he worked in film. All four were concerned that well-intentioned westerners were giving lots of money, yet the money was doing more harm than good in many situations.

"Frankly we just made the observation that the results are that Africans have gotten poorer after all this aid. So (after) $600 billion, 45 years, most Africans are poorer than before receiving that aid. So the question was really like, what are we doing here? Is there a better solution?"

So the four Kleins set off on a trip, driving from Egypt all the way to cape Town in South Africa looking for answers. Klein says for all its size there are very few western journalists based in Africa and as a result lot of stories and a lot of people with important things to say who aren't being heard. He says they went in search of those people.

"There are also many many Africans who are intelligent, hardworking, motivated and ready to take on the problems in their community and quite often those people aren't given a voice," he says.

One of the things they learned was the impact of the US Farm bill on the food aid sent to Africa. Klein says the food which the US donates all comes from the US, and often discourages local agricultural efforts in Africa.

"Food aid has caused harm in many cases and by importing food from Minnesota and the midwest and shipping it over on US carriers, the result is 93 cents on the dollar in food aid is spent in the US," he says. "While there is a benefit to US farmers and shippers which shouldn't be overlooked, it has a very negative impact on the agricultural markets and true food security in recipient countries."

after three years work the film is finished.

Time Klein says there will be discussions with the film makers at the screenings. They are putting together a network of people in the Midwest to discuss the issues around food aid and how food aid is delivered. He would like to see the US government change to what the European Commission is doing which is buying food locally from within the recipient countries.

"It's not up to the U.S. to end poverty in Africa," Klein says. "It's not up to western organizations, or the American public. It's up to Africans. Our role as Americans should really be to play a supportive role and to more or less make things as fair as possible."

After the screening the Kleins are working on a fall tour for the films. They hope to show the film at 100 or more colleges and churches and sponsor further discussions.

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