By Bianca Silva
Director/producer Robinson Vil has built an impressive resume of developing compelling character-driven stories that keep the viewer on edge of their seats. His production company, Villain Pictures, displays a variety of work ranging from drama to action to a segway in music videos.
Vil speaks to The Haitian Times on the elements that make for a great film and his latest work, Blood Trails.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I remember growing up in Haiti at a time where the country was a lot safer for a kid to move around and have fun. Every Sunday, my mother would give money to go to the movies and I must admit, that was undoubtedly my favorite day of the week.
I got into filmmaking while studying international business in college at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. During my studies at Georgia State, I decided to take off a semester to breathe a little. During that period of time, I decided to do a weekend acting workshop with Bob Harter and Della Cole. I wanted to see how I felt about acting. Well, needless to say I fell in love with it, so I decided to pursue acting and didn’t go back to school.I have always enjoyed what films did for me throughout my teenage years and as an adult; as far as the emotions, the hope and the escape they provide. You get to be in another place, you get to experience and walk in other people’s shoes on the big screen. I wanted to make others feel that way through my stories. So, I bought books about filmmaking and learned how to make films. I would work, save my money and shoot a short film every year for about 5-6 years, and then I made my first big feature film life.less which was no easy task but I had some great people on that journey with me, so we were able to see the film through and it is one of my favorite films to date.
Your latest film, Blood Trail, focuses on a Haitian-American narcotics agent who travels to Haiti to seek revenge against his wife’s killers. Why did you feel it was important to showcase Haiti as a place where thrilling action can take place?
Haitians have always been in love and awe with action movies, much like the rest of the world. But nowhere has the cultural influence of action movies been greater than in Haiti. From school-aged kids to retirees, it’s commonplace to see people reenacting scenes and dialogue from their favorite hero flicks.
In a country so riddled with catastrophe and hardship, the Haitian people take great pleasure from the excitement and escape of thrilling action movies with stars like: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and now Jimmy Jean-Louis.
My friend and producer on Blood Trail, Reginald Chevalier has told me about a Haitian expression for when someone does something amazing on the island, “Ay, min atis la!” meaning: “here, comes my favorite actor.” The action hero, the action movie is engrained in the Haitian psyche. Imagine the fervor and enthusiasm if one of these stories, one of these immortalized heroes, was one of their own? That’s why I wrote Blood Trail and why we must make this film and bring it to the big screen.
Your films seem to depict various recurring themes and motifs: action, revenge and grief where the character has to decide whether to fight or flight. How do you usually approach the background and development of your characters?
As an independent filmmaker, I always aim to tell relevant stories that are not only entertaining but also intriguing and enlightening. As I have mentioned before, I got into filmmaking to make people feel, give people hope and also entertain them at the same time. My films tackle and tell stories about overcoming adversities, conquering love, making choices whether good or bad and being able to forgive and move forward.
An audience identifies more with conflicts than anything else in a film, that’s what keeps their interest in a film. The more a character struggles in a film, the better it is for the audience. With the help of my friend and co-writer Wade Ballance, I have been able to create some memorable characters in my films. Typically, we write flawed characters so that the audience can be part of the story and go along on the journey when they watch our films. For example in our film Rasin Mwen – L’amour Du Fric, the lead male character “Belensky” played by the talented Haitian actor David Charlier, had to overcome so many obstacles that the audience couldn’t help but to root for him in the end.
What were your favorite films growing up? What film genres resonated with you most?
Some of my favorite films growing up were: Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop, Terminator, Glory, and She’s Gotta Have It.
The film genre that resonates with me the most is drama, which is probably why I write a lot of drama [films]. But, I also enjoy others genres such as: action, suspense, comedy and romance.
Haitian filmmakers are underrepresented in media. How important is it for you to showcase your talents to the world and what advice would you give to younger Haitian-Americans who may want to pursue a career in film?
It is very important to me to showcase not only my talents, but also showcase other Haitians who are doing great work, whether they are in front or behind the camera. We have to aim higher and not settle for anything less than exceptional. My goal is to start a new trend of filmmaking in Haiti that is compatible with the type of cinema around the world.
It’s hard to ask the Haitian government to do more for the arts, when people are out of work and hungry on the island. But, they have to do something at some point to elevate the Haitian cinema and give it life again by providing some incentives to the filmmakers who are working hard to create great contents on their own with their own money.
Pioneers like: Languichatte and Papa Pye were doing it big even way back then, but Haitian cinema has lost its way and motivation. We must bring it back by telling well-made films/stories with great performances, great score/music, great sound and great vision/image. My advice to the younger and upcoming Haitian-Americans filmmakers in Haiti or abroad is to go through the process, take the time to learn the craft and everything else should fall into place.