Arts & Entertainment

Acton Institute wins prestigious award for documentary

The film examines poverty and the ‘hidden side of doing good.’

February 19, 2016
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Everything you’ve ever wondered about why the billions of dollars put into solving poverty hasn’t worked is addressed by a critically acclaimed documentary from a local institute.

Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, which promotes a free society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles, recently received Atlas Network's Templeton Freedom Award for its award-winning documentary, “Poverty, Inc.,” subtitled “Fighting Poverty Is Big Business But Who Profits the Most?”

The award, named after the late philanthropist and investor Sir John Templeton, was presented during the Atlas Network's Liberty Forum and Freedom Dinner ceremony Nov. 12 in New York City's historic Capitale venue.

According to a release, “the winning organization received a $100,000 prize and the five runners-up received $5,000.”

The documentary was directed and produced by Acton research fellow Michael Matheson Miller, who spent about four years traveling the world studying humanitarian foreign aid. Acton Co-Founder and Executive Director Kris Mauren served as the film’s executive producer.

In addition to the Templeton Freedom Award, the documentary has received more than 40 international film festival honors, including a Best of Fests selection to IDFA Amsterdam, considered the world’s largest documentary festival.

“This is profoundly important work being advanced by Acton Institute,” said Brad Lips, Atlas Network’s CEO.

“It contains good news: The solution to poverty already exists, in the entrepreneurialism of the poor themselves. It also conveys a challenge: to retire the top-down systems of aid delivery that bring as many problems as benefits.”

The 94-minute documentary, which was released last December, drew on more than 200 interviews in about 20 countries. The film critically examines the rise of charitable giving as a multi-billion dollar industry, asking uncomfortable questions about whether most charity actually helps or hurts the situation. The film explores such topics as international orphanages, non-governmental organizations, Toms Shoes, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the involvement of celebrities such as Bono in fighting poverty.

“The West has positioned itself as the protagonist of the development narrative. But the results have been mixed — in some cases even catastrophic — and developing world leaders have become increasingly vocal in calling for change. Drawing on perspectives gathered from over 150 interviews shot over four years in 20 countries, ‘Poverty, Inc.’ explores the hidden side of doing good,” reads the movie’s IMDB page. “From disaster relief to Toms Shoes, from adoptions to agricultural subsidies, ‘Poverty, Inc.’ follows the butterfly effect of our most well-intentioned efforts and pulls back the curtain on the poverty industrial complex — the multi-billion dollar market of NGOs, multilateral agencies and for-profit aid contractors. Are we catalyzing development, or are we propagating a system in which the poor stay poor while the rich get hipper?”

Since its release, “Poverty, Inc.” has been screened on more than 150 occasions in 22 states and 16 countries. The movie has received positive reviews and currently holds an 80 percent rating on the popular film review website

“On issues of international development and foreign aid, our country is at a tipping point,” said Mauren.

“While entrenched interests remain, mounting evidence is causing people of all political stripes to question whether their actions are really helping the poor. This is where ‘Poverty, Inc.’ comes in. Operating under the conviction that thoughtful documentaries change culture, we designed ‘Poverty, Inc.’ to spearhead a broad reconsideration of poverty that is nonpartisan but pro-market.”

The film will have its Grand Rapids premiere at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 29, at Celebration! Cinema North and IMAX, 2121 Celebration Drive NE, Grand Rapids. Miller will be in attendance along with Mark Weber, the film’s co-producer and a Grand Rapids native.

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