Dir: Chloe Ruthven. UK-Palestine. 2013. 74mins
A highly personal, frequently baffling, documentary set in occupied Palestine, The Do Gooders is directed by, and stars, Chloe Ruthven (Death of A Hedge Fund Salesman). Ruthven’s heart is clearly in the right place, but, over the course of 74 minutes, it’s in several places too many as she experiences great difficulty deciding what her film is ultimately about.
It’s interesting to note how many of Ruthven’s interview subjects take her seriously when her approach is so devoid of rigor.
Ruthven’s scattergun approach – she bolts in several directions during the course of the film – undermines some of the film’s more pertinent points and its relentless self-focus should see this enjoy very limited play.The film premiered at the London Film Festival.
At the outset, The Do -Gooders is intriguing. Ruthven sets off – to Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, amongst other troubled spots - with her camera and a book written by her grandmother about her family’s decades of aid work in Palestinian refugee camps. She doesn’t elaborate on her grandmother - Lady Diana Cooper - but her goal is to examine aid workers and their permanent place in an “annual summer camp for gap year students looking for adventure”.
Here, Ruthven makes some salient points – more volunteers per person than anywhere on earth with an NGO set up to manage them – at the expense of her blithely un-self-aware subjects. Ruthven, who follows this with a sequence in a Jenin art-house cinema, is unsparing here, which makes it difficult to in turn to be sympathetic towards her when The Do-Gooders starts to fall apart.
Heading off to Gaza during the last siege, Ruthven suddenly takes part in a protest, getting herself in the firing line, before she starts to hone in on USAID and the thorny issue of aquifiers.
She is joined in her increasingly muddled mission by a woman called Lubna, a bad-tempered Palestinian (apparently fresh from the European Parliament where she has been lobbying) who doesn’t like aid workers, doesn’t really seem to like Ruthven very much, but still agrees to be paid to drive her around for three weeks, pontificating endlessly about how annoying foreigners are. They end up arguing, there’s a woman called Allegra who is upset about roads, and the film hits a dead end at a remarkable speed, Ruthven sobbing along the way.
It’s interesting to note how many of Ruthven’s interview subjects take her seriously when her approach is so devoid of rigor, something a stronger producer and development process might have helped with. Perhaps they were right to - there is a film in The Do Gooders and the fiery Lubna makes some very valid points indeed. Sadly, however, they will need to be made again to reach an audience.
Production company/contact: Roast Beef Productions, www.roastbeeftv.com
Producers: Chloe Ruthven, Olly Lambert
Executive producers: Lara Agnew, Mike Lerner
Additional camera: Olly Lambert
Editor: Hugh Williams
Music: Simon Russell