Provocative documentary ‘Poverty, Inc.’ premieres at Chicago International Social Change Film Festival

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"Poverty, Inc." movie poster (

“Poverty, Inc.” movie poster (

The documentary film “Poverty, Inc.” makes its Chicago premiere this Friday at 7 p.m. at the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival.

From the Haitian solar panel salesman crushed by a flood of energy assistance after the 2010 earthquake to cobblers forced out of work by TOMS shoe donations, “Poverty, Inc.” explores the unintended consequences of foreign aid.

“It is a provocative film,” Todd Belcore, co-founder and vice president of the festival, said. “The film sparked a lot of conversation, I felt, in terms of what is the best way to effect global change.”

The film, directed by Michael Matheson Miller, already gained recognition this summer when it began screening early versions of the documentary at film festivals in the southwest.

Mark Weber, co-producer of the film, says the documentary aims to bring awareness to entrepreneurs struggling in developing countries. The film speaks to the unintended consequences of foreign aid to developing countries and encourages viewers to reexamine their charitable actions.

“The beautiful thing about documentary film is that we’re not the experts,” Weber said.

“You know, we’re just facilitating the introduction… so that you can meet people and hear perspectives that you might not have otherwise heard.”

And the film showcases many voices. The team began filming over four years ago and includes over 200 interviews in over 20 countries that aim to highlight the “creative capacity of each and every human person.”

The film addresses complex political and economic factors that perpetuate poverty. It follows entrepreneurs that operate outside the “formal economy,” and thus the regulations and protections of the law. It breaks down how political and civil unrest complicates the dreams of everyday people and how foreign aid can crush the entrepreneurial efforts of the people they are trying to help.

“Story after story, if you start to listen to these leaders and job creators in these countries, too often we’re not actually supporting them,” Weber said. “We’re actually cutting their knees out from under them.”

Emile Cambry, co-founder and president of the festival, says about 1,500 attendees will travel from various countries to attend the international event. With about 400 submitted works, Poverty, Inc. is one of 43 films screening chosen for this weekend’s festival.

According to Cambry, the selection committee chooses work based on technical capabilities, audio and video quality, and relevant stories that educate and inspire a call-to-action.

Weekend passes and single show tickets are available online, but Chicagoans who miss the “Poverty, Inc.” showing this weekend will have to wait until next year to see the film with a wider release in 2015.

As for the film’s title, the team at “Poverty, Inc.” chose to pay respect to another documentary that inspired their work. “You know, it’s a bit of a tip of the hat to ‘Food, Inc.’” said Weber, who stated that the two films share a similar goal.

“Its a culture-shifting documentary,” he said. “We believe that thinking in a new way is the first step in any action that you take.”

The Chicago International Social Change Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday at the Showplace ICON Theater at 150 West Roosevelt Road. Tickets at