Tom Heinemann’s film “The Micro Debt” has received a lot of flak from the microfinance community. The documentary, posing a sharp critique of microfinance, features interviews with microfinance borrowers, proponents and critics on three continents. It deals particularly critically with the work of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. One response to Heinemann’s criticism has been the production of counter-counter-knowledge (against Heinemann’s counter-knowledge), promoted via Youtube, courtesy of the world’s most trustworthy PR company. Another has been to draw into question Heinemann’s integrity as a journalist, referring to the film as “grossly inaccurate”, “false and defamatory”, and “digging for dirt”.
But “The Micro Debt” isn’t going away. It has been shown in over 14 different countries and awarded numerous prizes. Most recently, last Friday it was awarded the Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize Grand Prize, a prestigious award for journalistic work granted by the European Union in co-operation with Reporters Without Borders. “The Micro Debt” was selected out of a field of 1,300 contenders and commended as “a shining example of world-class investigative journalism, challenging entrenched assumptions”.
Courtesy of the prize, “The Micro Debt” is now also viewable online.
Tom Heinemann was vilified for not whistling everyone else’s tune; now, the Lorenzo Natali Prize is rehabilitating the film and the filmmaker. It shows that telling an unpopular story and confronting received wisdom is still what investigative and independent journalism is about. Conversely, what (if anything) has the world learned from microfinance promotion films like “To Catch a Dollar“? As for the claims of factual inaccuracy levied by Friends of Grameen against Heinemann, a short follow-up segment, to be aired early next year in Norway, may bring more clarity; watch this space.