Haiti Press Network Covers Documentary Film Producer's Visit to Promote Investigative Journalism

Jul 222011

The Haiti Press Network interviewed documentary film producer Kalyanee Mam during her ICFJ-sponsored visit to Haiti to promote investigative journalism. Mam discusses similarities between her homeland Cambodia in post-Khmer Rouge times and post-quake Haiti, specifically the influx of NGOs and importance of tracking aid money during a recovery process.

Investigative Journalism a Necessity in Haiti

Investigative journalism is necessary in the context of Haiti’s reconstruction, according to American documentary filmmaker Kalyanee Mam, who is originally from Cambodia. As part of an investigative journalism program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, Mam interviews with Haiti Press Network during her four-day trip.

July 22, 2010 Haiti Press Network Port-au-Prince, Haiti: There must be an investigative press, particularly in the context of reconstruction, said Kalyanee Mam, associate producer, researcher and director of photography for “Inside Job” which won a 2010 academy award for best documentary. Hired by director Charles Ferguson in 2009, Mam worked on the concept, creation and production of the documentary for a year before it was released by Sony Creations.

“What’s happening with reconstruction needs to be exposed and transparent,” Mam said. “People need to be help accountable, and the only way for this to happen is for the press to assume its responsibility.”

The role of the press is two-fold, Mam said. One is to demand that people be held accountable for their promises. The second is for the press to motivate the Haitian people, to help them be proud of who they are.

The American filmmaker added that investigations can be made on the culture of the country, for the positive things they have, such as the people, the music, art. “You can do investigations which show people how to reconstruct their lives, to build their confidence in their ability to reconstruct their country.”

Mam was born in Cambodia in 1977, just two years before the fall of the demonic Khmer Rouge regime which killed nearly 2 million people. In 1979 she fled with her family to a refugee camp on the border with Thailand, and in 1981, thanks to the International Office of Migration (OIM), was able to move to the United States.

It was during her childhood in California that Mam learned about Cambodia, through the stories her parents told. After earning a law degree at UCLA, Mam decided to return to her home country to see the places she’d heard about and to hear the stories from people themselves.

Her passion for story telling led her, eventually, to investigative journalism. She traveled to numerous countries collecting stories, including South Africa, China and Mozambique. She also heard stories of sexual abuse from women in the United States.

In Iraq, where she worked as a human rights lawyer, she clandestinely interviewed colleagues and questioned them about what their lives were like under Saddam Hussein, what it was like to live with sanctions, and then with the presence of American troops.

“In the beginning, I just had audio, but in the end I thought it would be more powerful to include images, and I traveled to Syria, Jordan and Egypt collecting stories of Iraqi refugees,” Mam said. Although she had no training as a journalist or filmmaker, Mam says it was her passion to tell this story that helped her succeed in the production of her first documentary, “Between Earth and Sky.” The film caught the attention of American documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson, who invited Mam to work with him on” Inside Job,” which documents the cause and consequence of the 2008 global financial crash.

Mam, at the invitation of International Center for Journalists, is participating in an investigative film series launched by ICFJ, Ayiti Kale Je and Fokal. Inside Job will be shown on Saturday, July 23 and afterward Mam will be speak and be available for questions. Mam will also be giving workshops on investigative journalism for both working journalists and journalism students, where she will discuss the similarities between Cambodia thirty years ago and Haiti today.

Mam is worried that the important lessons that could be learned from what Cambodia has done wrong are about to be repeated in Haiti. Her goal is to inspire journalists to take the lead in doing investigative reports to make sure this doesn’t happen.