From Sun Jun 29 17:00:26 2003
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 15:28:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 16045: (hermantin) Miami Herald-New generation of Haitian filmmakers are making a scene (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <>

New generation of Haitian filmmakers are making a scene

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

Last year, Wilkenson Bruna approached the Sunrise theater chain about showing his film, Wind of Desire. Even though the company’s screens show many non-mainstream, foreign and obscure cinema, Bruna was met with the cold face of skepticism.

Could a movie with a Haitian-American cast draw an audience? Mitch Dreier, a manager for the Sunrise chain, wasn’t sure. But he booked it anyway, making the Intracoastal in North Miami Beach the first theater in the country to premiere a Haitian-American feature.

Then came the crowds. The response was so overwhelming that he played Desire for nearly a month. Clearly, the Haitian community was ready to embrace dramatic material, says Dreier by phone.


Once a virtually nonexistent industry, Haitian filmmaking is on the rise, ushering in a new generation of filmmakers and growing audiences. In addition to the Sunrise Intracoastal, the California Club theater in North Miami-Dade has also shown these films, a premiere of Millionnaire par Erreur was due to take place Saturday night at the North Miami Beach Performing Arts Center, 40 Ans Apres—filmmaker Mario Delatour’s documentary about poet-activist Roussan Camille—was showcased at the African-American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale and earlier this month at Florida International University, and many of the movies are available on video in some South Florida stores.

The surge is due in part to the support of the ever-increasing Haitian population outside Haiti and digital video, which many have credited with providing an outlet for moviemakers working with tissue-thin budgets. Until now, the best-known Haitian filmmaker was Raoul Peck, whose accolades include having had the first Caribbean film to be in competition at the Cannes Film Festival (L’homme Sur les Quais), receiving France’s coveted Order of Arts and Literature for his body of work, and nabbing the prestigious Paul Robeson Award for his 2000 movie Lumumba. HBO has even called on him to direct the Martin Scorsese-produced biopic of 19th century militant abolitionist John Brown.

But Peck is no longer alone. Take Richard Sénécal. His film Barikad (Barricade), produced with a DVCam on a budget under $60,000 and edited on Apple’s Final Cut suite, has been sparking positive buzz among Miami’s Haitian and Haitian-American community.

Also, such names as Haiti’s Arnold Antonin (Piwouli et le Zenglendo—Piwouli and the Thug), Canada’s Hilaire Absalon (Les Controverses—The Controversies) and Orlando’s Jean-Claude Guillaume (Conféssions) are now telling their cinematic stories of the Haitian diaspora.

The digital camera changed moviemaking here, says Antonin in a phone interview. ``Before, there were no financial means to produce movies in Haiti. Film was expensive in itself and you had to have it developed in a lab overseas.

Simultaneously, distribution and audiences have started to become more sophisticated. Filmmakers used to trudge around Haiti, hauling their movies from theater to theater. Often it took up to two years for the directors to cover the entire country, leaving little time to work on follow-up productions and fresh scripts. Now, the firm Communication Plus S.A., has emerged to take over that function.

We lose some rights, says Sénécal of the new arrangement, via phone. But, at least things are done quicker.

As for the audience, Sénécal estimates there are 100,000 Haitians, out of a population of roughly eight million, who can afford to go to movies in Haiti, the western hemisphere’s poorest country. However, the number of Haitians living abroad—mostly in the United States, Canada and France—is estimated at two million (with some 213,000 in South Florida, according to the U.S. census), widening the market considerably.

We’re dealing with an audience that’s becoming more and more demanding, says Antonin.

He adds that he was surprised when recently, after coming from a movie screening in Haiti, he overheard the intelligent analysis of a group of young moviegoers. I hear their comments all the time. Sometimes it’s on the story, ‘Oh, that actor was terrible.’ Sometimes even on technical stuff. ‘Oh, that scene was not too well-lit.’


But controversy is riding the coattails of this new sensibility. To eye the lavish mansions and glamorous lives of the films’ protagonists, one would think that the impoverished Haiti depicted in the media is fabricated. According to Antonin, Creole, the language of Haiti’s populace, is rarely used in these films in favor of French. Moreover, he argues that the characters lead a life that is not reality for much of the population.

But, say some, that is the whole point. It’s what the public wants, says producer-screenwriter Mora Etienne, 31, by phone. Etienne prompted much discussion with a love scene—innocent by American standards—in Le Choix de ma Vie (My Life’s Choice).

Aside from heated debates about reality, Haiti’s digital cinema is plagued by accusations of sexism. In particular, the films of Raynald Delerme have been cited for their portrayals of gold-digging, self-serving women. Out of the 17 or so digital features that have been released in the past seven years, none were directed by a woman.

It’s just that they don’t get an opportunity, says Sénécal, who points out that most of the women filmmakers from the country work abroad. It’s not a politics thing.

And then there are the bootleggers. Sénécal says that shortly after Barikad—as well as colleague Smoyé Noisy’s feature Millionnaire par Erreur (Millionaire by Mistake) were in theaters—DVD and VHS tapes of the films were already selling in Port-au-Prince streets.

There are no regulations to protect us, says Etienne, who bemoans that distributors make more money from his films than he does.

When you’ve completed a movie, he continues, you take it to the theaters who want half, I should say 60 percent [of the profits], because they’ll tell you you have to give off a tariff of 10 percent to the government. After you pay your actors, there’s not much left for yourself.

Financing, all the moviemakers agree, is a hassle. Etienne says it takes him up to three years to come up with the money for each of his projects. Unlike many governments, Haiti has no film commission to help the industry. By most accounts, while the period of government repressing the arts has long ended, there’s still not much encouragement—financial or moral.

Says Sénécal, Artists or creators promoting government ideas or projects obviously get more direct support.

Banks and other businesses, obvious choices as prospective financiers, rarely invest in films. And when they do, they demand that the filmmakers feature their businesses in the storyline. This often results in the features resembling ensemble commercials more than movies.

What happens now with the Haitian film scene, which has not had much exposure to non-Haitian audiences, remains nebulous. Says Sénécal, who recalls seeing a finished movie in which the sound engineer could be clearly seen for five minutes, At some point, there’s got to be some sort of self-criticism on the part of filmmakers.

Our cinema is not yet up to the reputation of our art. Nor of our literature, says Antonin. We have a big job to do.

And the future is not assured. Right now, we have three, four movies come out per year, says Etienne. If financing hurdles continue, says Etienne, the output will be reduced to just one per year.


Antonin is more optimistic. To make an enduring impression, he states, the moviemakers in his country have to carve a niche all their own. Every country in the world has their stamp on cinema, he asserts. In Italy, there was neo-realism, which basically set up Italian cinema’s reputation. There’s New Cinema in Brazil. Poetic Realism and what they call New Wave in France. All contributed to world cinema and at the same time, advanced these individual countries’ cinema. We ourselves need to find a cinema language that will reflect our country’s dilemmas.