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29594: Hermantin(News)Film festival goes on the road in Haiti (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Fri, Dec. 01, 2006

Film festival goes on the road in Haiti
The annual film festival in Jacmel, Haiti, will take the show on the road this year, visiting some of the country's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

A Port-au-Prince slum where armed gangs and ricocheting bullets are a way of life hardly seems a good place to go to the movies.

But for Haiti-born hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean and organizers of the Festival Film Jakmel -- which is in full swing this week -- the Cité Soleil slum is not only the ideal place for a movie theater, but also a whisper of hope for their most daring social experiment yet.

After the final credits roll Saturday at the film festival in the southern city of Jacmel, a customized four-wheel-drive truck packing a 15-foot tall screen and sound system will begin a tour of Haiti, parking in soccer fields and public squares to showcase a series of films.

First stops: Cité Soleil and some of the other most volatile neighborhoods of the Haitian capital.

''For the poorest of the poor in the ghettos of Port-au-Prince, this is extremely important,'' said American filmmaker David Belle, one of the founders of the film festival. ``We are bringing inspiring messages of hope and progress to them, and offering them a distraction from the hardships of daily survival.''

In its third year, the film festival began as a way to celebrate Haiti's bicentennial and transform Jacmel, an artsy coastal town three hours south of Port-au-Prince, into a tourist destination. The event, which began this year on Nov. 24, has since flourished and attracted an estimated 50,000 visitors last year.

But this year, Belle decided to team up with Jean's Yéle Haiti Foundation and the French Alliance Franc¸aise to take the show on the road. Six of the 92 films being screened in Jacmel also will be shown in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods beginning Dec. 11.


While no one expects the screenings to immediately change life in Haiti, where the slums have become ground zero in the armed conflict between gangs, Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers, Jean believes they can plant seeds of change.

''In America, we provide opportunities and statistically this has worked,'' said Jean, who will wrap up the Jacmel festival with a free beachfront concert tonight -- his first performance in his homeland in nearly a decade.

''We go into slum areas, we go into projects, we put programs. Despite the violence, we still see a change within the community,'' he told The Miami Herald. ``And does everybody get saved? No. A few get saved. But the few that do get saved are able to go back into the community and keep helping.''

As he talks about his vision, Jean's voice rises with excitement. He's an admirer of reggae icon Bob Marley and likens what he is trying to do to what the Jamaican-born star did for the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica: use music to give voice to the plight of ghetto life.

''The goal that I hope for is the same goal that . . . got me here,'' Jean said in a telephone interview. 'People say, `You go into these places and as soon as you leave there is another shooting. What's the point?' The point is, if you turn around and forget these kids and keep walking forward, there would not be a Wyclef Jean today.''


Tony Augustin, 23, who lives in Cité Soleil, welcomes the effort.

''Life here is so fragile. You go to sleep not knowing if you will wake to see another day,'' he said one day after yet another gun battle between U.N. peacekeepers and gangs. The coming movie show, he added, ``is a great thing. It will give us an idea of what other places are like. We will see what is being done . . . what to do, what not to do. We will see how others live.'

The concept of ''mobile cinemas'' has been widely used in the refugee camps of Africa, and in the 1970s they were tapped by the Cuban film institute to deliver culture to rural communities. Earlier this month, the Caracas city government in Venezuela launched a similar effort in seven low-income neighborhoods, showing films that speak to key issues in that city while entertaining the audiences.

The films being shown as part of Haiti's mobile cinema also speak to the country's issues: AIDS, crime, domestic violence and child slavery. Among them is the story of a Haitian musician with AIDS -- The President Has AIDS? -- which was produced by a Haitian filmmaker and stars a Haitian cast including Hollywood actor Jimmy Jean-Louis, currently starring in NBC's Heroes.

''It is controversial,'' Jean-Louis, who attended part of the festival, said of the film, which premiered on opening night in Jacmel. ``Sometimes you need controversial topics for people to speak and to be aware of what is going on.''

Another is the Cameroon documentary Sisters in Law, a story of two women who take on the legal system and empower women to defend themselves against spousal abuse. It is among 16 films that have been dubbed into Creole by Jacmel youths for Haitian audiences.

''If you close your eyes, you would think these were Haitian women,'' said prize-winning Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, . ``These are real people and there are all of these similarities with Haiti.''

Danticat, who also is at the Jacmel film festival, and Jean-Louis say they are curious about the kinds of discussions that will follow in the poor neighborhoods once the truck drives off to its next stop.

''Sometimes it's that one moment that just flips things,'' Danticat said. ``It can be pretty incredible and could flip the way you look at the world.''

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