DER Documentary

Send in the Clowns

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by Sam Lee
color, 82 min, 2014
in English, Creole and French
with English subtitles

This DVD is closed-captioned for the hearing impaired


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Send in the Clowns follows performers from the organization Clowns Without Borders. Their mission is to travel to areas of crisis and relieve stress and suffering through laughter. The clowns are volunteers, armed with a unique set of skills and an earnest desire to change the world. But is their work any different from all of the other agenda-driven aid organizations? In 2009 the clowns go to Haiti, a country known as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere with the highest number of NGOs per capita in the world. They have a grueling schedule of three or more shows a day in schools, orphanages and slums. While there is a positive response to their work, the clowns are conflicted by the overwhelming needs of the Haitian people and their effectiveness in a place saturated, yet sustained by international intervention.

On January 12th, 2010 Haiti is hit by a devastating earthquake. An outpouring of aid floods the country in an attempt to address the immediate demands of food and housing. But in the wake of such extreme devastation, what is the point of sending clowns? The clowns decide to shift their focus and return to Haiti in September 2010 to teach workshops to young adults in the hope of having a more lasting impact. The workshop participants embrace the clown activities but share the challenges of their daily lives.

One year later, we find a country still struggling with basic necessities and it's unclear where all the pledged funds have gone. The Haitian workshop participants reflect on their lives in the past year and have a strong reaction to the aid they have received. So how do the clowns measure up amidst all of the other efforts? Send in the Clowns begins as a film about artists with good intentions but slowly reveals Haiti's crippling and conflicted relationship with an arguably more absurd global aid industry.

Send in the Clowns is less a story of corruption and ill-will than of structural failures with implications far beyond the Haitian case. The film is beautifully shot and constructed, able to hold the attention of undergraduates, grad students, and jaded development professionals alike. It is suitable for use in undergraduate and graduate courses on international development, international organizations, policy planning, cultural studies and anthropology, as well as courses on the Caribbean. It could also be useful in courses on international public health and a valuable training tool for UN agencies and NGOs.” — David A. Feingold, Ph.D., Director, Ophidian Research Institute, Bangkok, Thailand
“As someone who has had the privilege to live and work in post earthquake Haiti for 5 years, I was relieved at the honest approach Send in the Clowns has taken to educate its viewers on the real experience of both Haitians and relief workers. The film opens doors for an honest dialog about the relief efforts in Haiti, and is truly a tool for educational purposes. Send in the Clowns is one of the best films I have seen that explains the dilemma of charitable aid and the human spirit. ” —Julie Colombino, Founder Rebuild Globally

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Screening at United Nations, CINE-ONU program, Brussels, 2015
Rising 15, Coventry Peace Forum, UK, 2015
Awareness Film Festival, Los Angeles, 2015
Socially Relevant Film Festival, New York, 2014
Global Peace Festival, Florida, 2014

Related Resources
Filmmaker Site
Clowns Without Borders

Related Films
Bound by Haiti
Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts