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From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
(dpa German Press Agency, 12 Oct 06)
Ghosts of Cite Soleil - An extreme slice-of-life documentary
By Mary Sibierski
Warsaw -- Loving fathers and brutal killers, brothers 2Pac and Bily were
ghetto gang leaders sporting machine guns reputedly supplied by none-other
than the now-deposed president of Haiti, Jean- Bertrand Aristide. "How is
my life gonna be? I don't know, I don't know... Maybe good, maybe bad ...
Lord knows," the Haitian 2Pac tells the camera at point blank range. The
look on his face says he knows it will be brief.
This young man's final testament of life and death in the hell of a third
world shanty town is immortalized in Ghosts of Cite Soleil - a raw,
in-your-face documentary that is best described as extreme.
An aspiring rapper, 2Pac is tall, wiry, intelligent and charismatic, at
turns violent and generous. He is also young and doomed.
Shot at point blank range by cinematographer Frederick Jacobi, Danish
director Asger Leth and Serb co-director Milos Loncarevic, the film dives
head-first into the untold human misery of one of the globe's poorest, most
violent and disease-ridden urban ghettos.
Cite Soleil - Sun City - is a slum skirting the northern edge of the
Haitian capital of Port au Prince. Home to an estimated half million
people, it is a place where children eat cakes made of dirt. There is no
public infrastructure. No education, health care and only the most
rudimentary of sanitation. Clean water is a treasure.
Police make rare incursions into the area, where United Nations
peacekeeping forces work as if in a war-zone. Deployed to end riots that
erupted after the February 2004 coup d'etat against President Aristide, the
UN forces have been accused by critics of being trigger-happy and killing
innocent Cite Soleil civilians.
Wielding a machine gun, 2Pac cruises carefree through the shanty town. The
camera follows as Cite Soleil residents greet him like a local hero. They
appear to regard him more as a benevolent provider and community leader
than a fearsome, brutal thug.
Ousted Haitian priest-to-president Aristide cultivated support among the
destitute residents of Haiti's slums. He is also alleged to have recruited
gang leaders like 2Pac and brother Bily as ghetto generals in his private
political death squads. Dubbed the Chimeres - ghosts - they used bullets to
It was a job they and other ghetto gang leaders could not refuse if they
wanted to stay alive, says director Leth. He hosted the film's European
screen debut this week at the Warsaw International Film Festival.
"This is what I believe in," 2Pac tells the camera flexing his index finger
as if to pull a trigger. The gesture screams "kill or be killed."
Like the hundreds of thousands of Haitians doomed to life in slums like
Cite Soleil, the film shows that at each and every turn, the brothers could
only choose among the lesser of two evils.
But an outburst of child-like joy while 2Pac is rapping his
politically-charged lyrics over the phone to Haitian-born international
hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, reveals that 2Pac believed in much more than the
power of a gun. His secret hopes and dreams were wrapped-up in his music,
which he believed could change his life.
Born Winson Jean Bart, 2Pac bled to death after being shot by a rival gang
in Cite Soleil after filming ended. He was 26. His brother Bily, born James
Petit Frere, was buried not long after. He also died violently, aged 22.
Both left behind now-orphaned toddlers, whom they were filmed doting upon
like the most affectionate and attentive of fathers.
2Pac also left behind recordings of his hip-hop and rap anthems of radical
political protest, director Leth reveals.
Cinematographer Loncarevic captured 2Pac and Bily's compelling story on
film thanks to an almost karmic friendship with the brothers, forged
through his friend Eleonore Senlis. Nick-named Lele, the French
humanitarian aid worker was one of few outsiders brave enough to venture
alone into Cite Soleil.
Thin and blonde with nerves of steel, she is the kind of powerful woman few
men can resist. Bily had a school-boy crush on her. But a romance blossomed
between her and 2Pac.
Inspired by his contact with 2Pac, Wyclef Jean travelled to Haiti and
joined the Nordisk Film project as an executive producer. He also wrote the
film's haunting musical score and established Yele Haiti, a humanitarian
aid organization aimed at jump-starting grass-roots development in his
His international musical success has made Jean a living legend of historic
proportion in Haiti, according to Leth.
"I don't know of any country on earth where music has a stronger impact
than in Haiti," Leth says.
A Caribbean-island paradise gone wrong, Haiti was declared the world's
first independent black republic in 1804 after a rebellion by African
slaves. Today, it has the dubious distinction of being the poorest country
in the Western Hemisphere, plagued by violence, endemic corruption and
Ghosts of Cite Soleil does not attempt to show or explain the root causes
of the human tragedy it documents. But when asked, Leth is quick to blame
the Haitian state and wealthy society.
Rotten to the core with corruption, Leth insists Haiti is controlled by a
handful of fabulously wealthy families that have failed to take any
initiative to develop even the most basic public infrastructure like
schools and hospitals to combat their nation's grinding poverty.
"Even with the poverty, anarchy and hopelessness, the people still have a
raw force of incredible pride and energy," Leth says.