From Sun Jun 29 17:00:24 2003
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 15:28:05 -0500 (CDT)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 16044: Hermantin: Haitian creativity outlasted nation’s tyranny (fwd)
Sender: From: leonie hermantin <>

Haitian creativity outlasted nation’s tyranny

By Katheline St. Fort, Miami-Herald, Sunday 29 June 2003

Though Haitian filmmakers have a long way to go, it has come some distance, surviving dictators and destitution.

Throughout the country’s history, imported films were the norm. Sure, Haiti was ridiculed in voodoo-craze fares by directors like Victor Halperin in White Zombie (1932) and Arthur Leonard’s The Devil’s Daughter (1939). But there was still not much of a home-grown cinematic movement.

Then, in the late 1950s, Francois Papa Doc Duvalier seized power, paralyzing arts movements and crushing any hopes for the advent of a movie industry.

He was a complete paranoid, notes retired Webster University assistant professor and Haiti expert Robert Corbett of the Haitian dictator, in an e-mail interview. He distrusted everyone and nothing in the country was [done in] secret. He was most particularly sensitive after Graham Greene published his novel The Comedians. He intensely distrusted foreigners.

That feeling intensified when Greene’s novel, filmed by MGM, portrayed Duvalier as a tyrannical maniac. The film was banned for decades.

But the Duvaliers’ animosity was not directed at just foreigners. Director Arnold Antonin was forced into exile after his documentary Duvalier Accused was released in 1973. From then on, most films about Haiti were either produced outside the country, as was Cuban director Thomas Gutierrez Alea’s Coumbite. Or, they were politically harmless exercises like Raphael Stines’ 1975 screen adaptation of Jacques Roumain’s prize-winning novel The Governors of the Dew.

Despite censorship, several socially conscious films were able to snare the approval of Duvalier’s government. Among them: Rassoul Labuchin’s child labor fiction Anita and Bob Lemoine’s tale of class division, Olivia.

Then, in 1985, Raynald Delerme, who had left Haiti to study film abroad, returned and teamed with the late comedian Theodore Beaubrun for the successful, shot-on-video Founerailles (The Funeral). Soon, other moviemakers started to turn to video, most notably Raphael Stines, with Kraze Lanfe (Breaking Hell), a scathing portrayal of the regime of Francoise Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude.

By then, the Duvalier dynasty had ended, the newly elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide suffered a coup d’etat, and a military government had taken over. But the new leaders saw Stines’ movie as an indictment against them and lead actor Fenel Jesifra Valcourt had to go into hiding.

After Stines’ experience, moviemakers tended to steer away from political subjects. Soapish, sensational dramas like Jean-Gardy Bien-Aimé’s Le Cap a la Une (To the One), targeting the youth market, became the standard.

Then, in late 2001, Reginald Lubin released his digital-video feature La Peur D’aimer (The Fear of Loving), about a young woman’s unplanned pregnancy, using film-structure techniques—such as good cinematography and a strong script—known to global cinema but largely ignored and unused in Haitian cinema. The sensation it caused prompted other filmmakers to follow suit and spawned higher expectations in movie fans. That’s when, to many, digital video seemed like a godsend.

In a country like Haiti, where 40 percent of the population is illiterate, states Antonin, who heads the Bolivar Arts Center in Port-Au-Prince, audio-visuals are especially important.