Free Money | Film Threat

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Documentarians Lauren DeFilippo and Sam Soko explore the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) Free Money. The documentary follows the efforts of U.S.-based charity GiveDirectly, co-founded by Michael Faye. Charities have traditionally had large overhead expenses, resulting in only pennies on the dollar reaching those in need. Furthermore, giving internationally adds more fees related to local governments and NGO organizations, diluting the funds even further.

As the name implies, GiveDirectly tries to ensure that as much donated cash as possible finds its way into the hands of the people they serve. Toward this end, the organization conceived a pilot program to experimentally introduce a UBI for the Kenyan village Kogutu (among several hundred other towns in various countries). Every adult resident of the village will receive the equivalent of $22 per month for a 12-year period.

Free Money | Film Threat

“…a pilot program to experimentally introduce a UBI for the Kenyan village Kogutu…”

For the people in Kogutu, that is a princely sum, providing a life-altering financial boost that will forever change the situation for the recipients. The filmmakers bounce between New York and Kenya, capturing the concept and execution of the program from several points of view. Faye is a visionary who doesn’t seem terribly well connected to cultural and financial realities and doesn’t seem to have thought through the larger consequences of the program. GiveDirectly uses a vetting process to confirm that the fund’s registered recipients are full-time residents of Kogutu and in the suitable age range.

The impulse to give is good, and the program’s beginnings go as planned. However, Free Money shows that there are cultural considerations that were not accounted for. GiveDirectly inadvertently created huge wealth gaps between neighboring communities in the regions where their “experiment” is targeted. Suddenly the societal ills that come with the previously distant reality of “haves” vs. “have-nots” landed on the front doorstep of the region in and around the village.

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