'Call for Help': Film Review

Courtesy of Obscure Pictures
An intriguing but not fully satisfying look at guerilla-style international aid.

A handful of 20-somethings try to do what the Red Cross can't in Haiti.

As well-intentioned as its 20-something protagonists and only a bit more clear-headed, Call for Help looks at a band of unsanctioned aid workers in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Lior Etziony and Michal Hanuka's debut doc does a solid job of conveying the frustrations and delays associated with getting things done in that famously chaotic environment and is honest about the aimlessness of its heroes in their pre-crisis lives. It isn't nearly as good at answering questions about their dubious methods or in spotting oncoming trouble. Given its lack of big-picture vision or revelations about the four-year-old disaster, commercial potential is extremely limited.

Global D.I.R.T. (Disaster Immediate Response Team), as we meet them here, is a ragtag crew of young people pulled together by Adam Marlatt, a Marine reservist and Iraq/Afghanistan vet. Mostly people with self-confessed difficulties settling into conventional lives or accepting others' authority, they find a niche by ignoring the rules made by big groups like the Red Cross and the United Nations. "I don't want the U.N. to be my parents," Marlatt says, and accordingly we're told that Global D.I.R.T. is the only NGO willing to transfer medical patients after 7 p.m.

We watch anxiously what passes for ambulance service here: Lauren Stately, a young woman with some nursing experience, guides volunteers who maneuver a spinal-injury patient into the back of a pickup, then instructs the driver to go as fast as he can without hitting any bumps. Later, the team essentially kidnaps someone from the Port-au-Prince General Hospital, explaining their actions to us with the difficult-to-believe claim that Haitian doctors would rather let the patient die than transfer him to the American-run field hospital at the airport.

No outside interviewee or camera footage supports (or contradicts) that statement, and the facts are even less clear in another scene, where we watch the gang pulling up to the airport and talking their way into a truckload of food they hope to distribute among the homeless. We can surmise that Marlatt is bluffing when he tells guards that he has been sent by Haiti's president and that Sean Penn is one of his backers. But the real story about how D.I.R.T. learned of and decided to appropriate this bounty is never seen.

Very briefly, two representatives of NGO officialdom appear onscreen to discuss the pros and cons of freelance do-gooders. One admits that in the very earliest stages of a crisis, they can do more good than harm. But no outsider speaks directly to the actions of this group, and we have little way of judging whether they're self-deluding altruists or are getting things done while more bloated entities try to play nice with bureaucrats. A two-years-later coda, featuring some claims of dysfunction hitherto barely hinted at, suggests the filmmakers weren't much clearer on that than their subjects.


Production company: Oster Media

Directors: Lior Etziony, Michal Hanuka

Producers: Tony Felzen, Alexandra Johnes, Lior Etziony, Michal Hanuka

Executive producer: Jane Oster

Directors of photography: Nir Weiss, Sean Clauson, Tomasz Gryz

Editor: Roni Klimowski

Music: Gal Padeh


No rating, 86 minutes