By M. Skye Holly
Good things come to those who wait. In 2011, Haiti Cultural Exchange launched the Haiti Film Fest and set the bar for film festivals with diasporic consciousness. This May, Haiti Film Fest was back, better, and eager to expose its guests to high quality and highly anticipated film screenings.
“May is Haitian Heritage month, a great time to come together to celebrate Haitian culture! Haiti Cultural Exchange’s 4th Biennial Haiti Film Fest will present over 20 films by filmmakers whose diverse perspectives present a compelling view of Haiti, its history and heritage, as well as the intricate and often challenging lives of the Diaspora,” said Régine Roumain, Executive Director of Haiti Cultural Exchange.
From May 11 – May 14 brought night after night, inspiring and thought-provoking cinematic experiences.
On Thursday, May 11, opening night, there was a kickoff event at the eclectic Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn. The opening night fundraiser honored the work of director Arnold Antonin, actor Jimmy Jean-Louis, and filmmaker Rachelle Salnave. The celebration was a time to gather over food, drink and discussion as the honorees shared their perspectives on how Haiti is portrayed in film. The discussion was followed by an after party at Alamo’s House of Wax.
Friday, May 12 was Haiti Film Fest’s “Evening of Shorts,” and was held at Brooklyn’s Five Myles Gallery. The twelve short films screened included dramas, conceptual films and documentaries on a myriad of themes and experiences. Baldwin’s Prophecy by Richard Louissaint is a “part narrative and part dance conceptual film influenced by James Baldwin,” and Valiz La by Rosario Lacroix, about a mysterious bag that travels across Jacmel are among the selected shorts. Haiti is a Nation of Artists by Jacquil Constant is one of the documentary shorts on the lineup.
Haiti Film Fest continued on Saturday, May 13 with “Documentary Filmmaking in Haiti: Past, Present & Future” at St. Francis College’s Maroney Theater in Brooklyn Heights, NY. Haiti Film Fest honoree Arnold Antonin’s documentary films were the spotlight of the evening. Antonin is the recipient of such prestigious awards as the Cannes Film Festival’s Dijbril Diop Mambety Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Paul Robeson African Diaspora Best Film Award at FESPACO in Ouagadougou. His film Courage de Femme: Benita et Merina (Dijbril Diop Mambety Award, Cannes Film Festival), a story of two woman stone crushers and “their struggle for survival and dignity” was among the four Antonin films presented. Antonin’s René Depestre: On Ne Rate Pas Une Vie Eternelle , an exploration of the life and work of prolific poet René Depestre will make its New York premiere. A series of stirring documentaries was shown earlier that day.
The Haiti Film Fest concluded on a high note Sunday, May 14 at St. Francis College’s Founders Hall. The Empty Box by Claudia Santa-Luce (featuring Jimmy Jean-Louis) and Si Bondye Vle, Yuli by Jean Jean both made their New York premieres. Serenade for Haiti by Owsley Brown also made its Brooklyn premiere. Other films closing out the event were the exclusive sneak peek of Tezin by Shirley Bruno; Ayiti Mon Amour by Guetty Felin and My Father’s Land, a story about a Haitian gardener who lived in the Bahamas for over 40 years and after facing xenophobia, returns to Haiti because of newly-enforced deportation laws to reunite with his 103-year old father.
The Haiti Film Fest made attendees laugh, cry, and everything in between as it shared stories pertaining to those of Haitian descent. The universal appeal is that the films all touched upon the human condition in one way or another.