By Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien
From artisans to media, Haiti is a minefield of art. Duo Ella Turenne and Martine Jean have taken their skills to create their podcast, Famn on Films. Truly exemplifying the ways in which passions will always find a way back into your life, the two sat with The Haitian Times to share their mission, personal stories, knowledge of the entertainment industry, and tips for young Haitians seeking to get out there.
The Haitian Times: What is ‘Famn on Films’?
Ella Turenne: ‘Famn on Films’ is a podcast that we created as a platform for Haitian cinema. We aim to review Haitian film and interview filmmakers, actors, producers and other people who are involved in making films that relate to Haiti. A lot of them would be having Haitian people involved in the making or creative aspects of filming. Some of them are about the black diaspora and how we make connections to Haiti.
HT: What was your vision?
ET: Film is all about storytelling. We wanted to create and provide a platform for Haitian creatives, for them to be able to share their work with not just Haitians, but other people who might be interested in film and storytelling.
Martine Jean: The goal is to elevate Haitian cinema and to bring it to a broader audience. A lot of Haitian Americans don’t realize how many Haitian films are being made by Haitians in Haiti or by Haitians in the diaspora. People often tell us, “We didn’t know there was an active Haitian cinema scene.” So that’s definitely the vision: sharing and highlighting the work.
HT: I can honestly say I had no idea. It’s just something I never thought of. Growing up, I watched African movies but it never dawn on me to consider, “Oh wow, we must have some too!”
ET: Yes! One of the things Martine and I discuss is how we have a particular vantage point because we live in Los Angeles, which is the entertainment capital of the world! And so we are also in contact with people who are in Hollywood, who are in Los Angeles, who are filmmakers. And, a lot of people don’t know who those folks are. Our last episode was about Numa Perrier who actually started her own television station, Black & Sexy TV, on an online media platform to distribute black television. And if you mention her to folks outside of LA, there are Haitians who don’t know about her. She managed to make a really good name for herself through all that she does and her shows were really really popular. We wanted to elevate people like her.
MJ: So it’s not just filmmakers, it’s about actors too—the people who are in front of the camera. There are so many Haitians and Haitian Americans here in LA who work in TV and film and we don’t know about them. We want to bring all of those people to the forefront.
HT: In this digital age, YouTube content creators are very much a part of building the narrative. Do you see yourselves collaborating with top Haitian YouTubers?
ET: Collaboration is the key so we are definitely open to inviting other content creators. We’re all in it to promote Haitian culture, Haitian history, so we want to be as collaborative as possible and also use other platforms to help get that story out. We want to get into live-streaming. We have a lot planned now that we’re up and running.
HT: What’s the format of “Famn on Films”? Any recurring themes? What’s next?
ET: Primarily, we do reviews and the interviews are the bonus portions of it. For instance, we interviewed Kelley Kalli for the film she made with Garcelle Beauvais called “Lalo’s House.” That’s a film about child trafficking. Because of who we are as a people, a lot of these films intersect with social issues. And so wherever we can, we want to also bring a light to what’s going on and have conversations about some of these issues that are intersecting with our communities. This is one of the powers of art and film: it’s that it allows you to tackle really difficult subjects sometimes, child trafficking being one of them. If we can help, also eliminate some issues that are going on in the community that have a broader scope, then we want to be able to do that, too.
Another film we reviewed was “Black Panther,” which is not a Haitian film, but we did talk about the parallels of Haiti, Haitian history, and how there are things in “Black Panther” that we as Haitians could be thinking about—things we’ve seen in our culture that’s reflected in African culture that are reflected in some of the themes in “Black Panther.”
We want to have those kind of conversations through social media. In the future, we’re thinking of having live events where people can begin to interact and have this kind of dialogue.
HT: That’s amazing. I was five when I first visited Haiti but I recently had the opportunity to visit again. I was in awe. Like Wakanda in “Black Panther”, the rest of the world has a warped view of what Haiti really is. America plays such a huge role in shaping the perspective.
MJ: Yes! That’s what we mentioned in our review, too. First of all, they refer to Africa as one but they don’t do that with people who are from Europe. They specify, however, with Africa, it’s one entity without differentiating the countries. It’s the same thing with Haiti, instead of saying Haiti is all about poverty and hopelessness. We’re very careful with that on our podcast. Yes, there are some areas with poverty, but there is also so much beauty in Haiti and it’s very much reflected in the works of filmmakers.
HT: Do you have a background in film?
ET: We’re both filmmakers, both actors, and writers.
HT: How did that come about? A majority of Haitian parents aren’t too prone to encouraging the arts.
MJ: I totally agree. Haitian families would not encourage a journey in the life of an artist and I come from that
kind of household, where no one was interested in hearing about my aspirations of being an artist. To please them, I actually went to law school. Haitian families love lawyers, right?! They love doctors, lawyers, and engineers. However, even when I was practicing law, I was still doing theater. Eventually, I said, “I’ve made them happy, now it’s time to make myself happy.” I transitioned slowly into the arts, and it was difficult—and it still is because you’re coming into an area where you have not paid your dues yet. You feel like you paid your dues because you have in a different industry. It felt like starting from the very bottom. Although my ultimate goal is to be a writer and director, and I have written and directed short films, I make a living as a television producer. It was a difficult transition but I’m here!
ET: My story is very similar! Martine has a law degree and I have a social work degree. I did minor in theater in undergrad, however. I was always a theater person until I got out of grad school. I got into film because I wanted more of a platform to tell stories. In New York or Hollywood, it’s really hard. It is in general but being a black actress, it’s even more difficult. A lot of my friends and I were having the same problem and so, we decided to create our own content. No one was going to give us our platforms; we made them ourselves.
HT: What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced not only as a Haitian, but a woman?
ET: Our challenges are very much reflected in what you’re hearing in the media: harassment, language, and culture. It is a very particular way of being and those people are not necessarily being sensitive towards people of color. And then opportunities, it’s very much based on looks and superficial things before you get to see whether or not people are talented. On the other side, if you’re a creative on the other end, it’s very white and male. Trying to get your foot in the door is much more difficult.
MJ: As a black woman, getting your projects financed is an uphill battle… especially for the stories we want to tell. A lot of times, we’re told our stories don’t have that big enough of an audience. I also have to add onto what Ella was saying about language and how people act on set. With the Harvey Weinstein scandal and everything that’s going on in the #MeToo movement, everyone in Hollywood was not surprised. There is that sexist culture that permeates the industry.To a certain extent—black women in particular—we’ve gotten used to it. It’s always dangerous to speak out when no one is backing you up. You don’t want to be the one to speak out against someone or against a pattern of behavior, and then, all of a sudden, you’re ostracized. All of sudden, you’re being labeled as a troublemaker or the one who always brings race or gender into the conversation. Every day, we wake up and have to be ready to fight—one way or the other.
HT: What advice do you have for the younger generation that wants to get into the entertainment industry?
ET: Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it. However, just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it can be done easily. Be prepared to find ways in telling your stories without being within the system—meaning being a part of a corporate structure or studio structure. Don’t wait for these larger entities to give you the green light. Fortunately, we’re living in an age where youth have so much access to tools that’ll allow you to tell your story and bring it to the people. There is no excuse to wait… to have anybody else tell you that your story deserves to be heard.
MJ: Start wherever you are. If you’re in Haiti, if you’re in London… start wherever you are and create content wherever you are. With the internet, you can now build an audience without the permission or approval from anyone. Also, make sure you have a good support system around you, whether it be your family, your chosen family, your friends, or your colleagues. Learn to turn rejection into something that powers you forward because you’re going to get rejected a few times a day. Understand it, accept it, but build and put yourself out there.
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