Lena Jackson, co- Director and co- Director of Photography for the Democracy in Haiti film, arrived in Haiti as the nation readied itself for the first round of presidential elections scheduled for Nov 28th, 2010.
Here she summarizes the production phase of the film completed in December 2010. A second phase of production for the film is planned for the second round of the vote, to be held in March.
[Haiti skyline. Photo by: Magee McIlvaine]
Lena Jackson, Jan 27th, 2010, Guatemala:
I arrived in Port-au-Prince, the bustling capital city of the small Caribbean island of Haiti, a week before the monumental presidential election was scheduled to take place. Under the auspices of Nomadic Wax, a global hip-hop production company and record label that dedicates itself to disseminating underground music around the world, I was on a mission to capture what life was like in Haiti, through the eyes of its youngest, and also most vulnerable and populous, citizens. Within hours of landing, I had gotten together with a Haitian team, who I’d be working with for the duration of my two-week stay, and figured out a plan of action for our documentary film project.
To give you some background on the project, the idea began through a meeting between Vox Sambou, a Haitian-born emcee/activist, now based in Montreal and Magee McIlvaine, Creative Director of Nomadic Wax, who met and brainstormed about a potential documentary project around music, youth, and politics in Haiti, possibly during the presidential election, slated for November 28, 2010. The project’s intentions were to bring awareness to the positive things that people in Haiti are doing in spite of all the negative media that constantly surrounds the country. We thought it necessary to focus on young people, given their utter importance in future progress of the island nation. Additionally, young people, not only in Haiti but across the world, are often not heard, not given a voice, not given a chance to show the kinds of contributions they are making in light of hardship, and we wanted to give the youth of Haiti a chance to express themselves and their views.
[Lena Jackson, middle, on site in Haiti. Photo by: Mackendy Jeune]
The first person who I had the great fortune of interviewing was the talented graffiti artist, Jerry Rosembert. Jerry, a 25 year Haitian man, who has dedicated himself, especially since the earthquake, to painting in public spaces around the city, is poised, eloquent, and most impressively, down-to-earth. While I don’t speak Haitian Creole, which was most definitely a setback and the most challenging part of the trip, I was lucky to be paired with a trio of talented filmmakers and activists, Mackendy Jeune, James Berlus, and Peter Berlus, who conducted all of our interviews.
Along with Jerry, our other central characters were EUD, a stunning female emcee and model, and Rodlin, a young student and poet, who had just moved to Port-au-Prince from his hometown of Lembe, in the northern part of the country, in hopes of attending university. As a film team, we wanted a story that would encapsulate life as a young person in Haiti, but also wanted to focus on the inspiring things young Haitians were doing to uplift themselves and their country, and these three are excellent examples of young people who are doing exactly that.
In addition to Jerry, EUD, and Rodlin, we met and interviewed several other young artists, musicians, politicians, writers, and activists, who, in spite of all the daily challenges that they face, were doing important, inspirational work. Having these daily interactions, whether it was conducting an interview, listening to music, or watching an emcee battle, was the most meaningful part of my journey. On top of being in a Haiti at the height of political uneasiness and social upheaval, I was able to meet and become friends with people who believed that they and their brethren would be able to change the course of their country’s future with the work they were doing. Considering Haiti’s current circumstance, this faith was a commanding force that moved me and will hopefully move audiences and fellow Haitian people to persevere and have hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
[Rodlin. Photo by: Mackendy Jeune]
In between interviews and jam sessions, we also tried to get a sense of the political climate. With 19 candidates running for president, a few of which were early front-runners, including a former Carnival singer, Sweet Mickey, a former First Lady, Mirlande Manigat, and the hand-picked successor to current president Rene Preval, Jude Celestin, tensions were high throughout the country. Streets were covered with posters and flags with candidates not only for president, but also for deputy and senate. Young people roamed the streets with t-shirts and hats of candidates, who were paying them to distribute flyers and information, in hopes of encouraging other young people to vote for them. Trucks covered in these posters passed by blasting a not so varied assortment of Rara music with messages that backed the different candidates. A few days before Election Day, we were driving downtown and ran across a large rally where people were condemning the arrival and spread of Cholera. The Friday before the election, NGO workers were put on a weekend lock-down and everyone stocked up on supplies in preparation for things to potentially be closed for the next few days, depending on the madness that could arise. No one knew what to expect.
[Voting box. Photo by: Mackendy Jeune] [Campaign Posters. Photo by: Mackendy Jeune]
[Polling stations. Photo by: Mackendy Jeune]
On the Sunday of the election, streets were relatively quiet. Roads were closed to most people, except those who had special permission, such as the press, dignitaries, etc. We started taking footage of different polling stations around the city to get a feel of the voting process and how people felt about the election. After covering several stations, we rushed to the Karibe Hotel in Petionville after hearing on the radio that 12 of the 19 candidates were holding a press conference to object to the election results due to massive fraud and irregularities. After the conference was over, several of the candidates took to the streets to march to the Central Electoral Office (CEP) to protest the impending results. I, like many other people I talked with, agreed that the elections were most probably filled with fraud and irregularities, but had to wonder why these candidates waited until Election Day to raise the question.
[Voting. Photo by: Mackendy Jeune]
The week after the election, things were calmer, but there was still a level of mystery in the air. People were uncertain as to what would happen, as the results were not to be announced for a few weeks. People complained about the corruption and the inefficiencies, making me wonder why there was even an election to begin with. If everyone knew that things would not be carried out in a democratic way, why waste all of the time, effort, and most importantly money on something like this in the wake of Cholera and a country that has made very little reconstructive progress since the earthquake on January 12th. However confused or frustrated I may have felt was irrelevant, because at the end of the day life continued. People kept playing music, kept making graffiti, kept writing, the young people of Haiti kept faith alive that they would get through this, like they had every other obstacle thrown in their path.
I left Port-au-Prince the week after the election. Two weeks is not nearly enough to get a full grasp of the situation at present, but it was enough to meet some very motivating people and capture some of their thoughts on the intricacies of life in the ever-changing, ever-complicated, ever-beautiful country of Haiti. It was also enough time to appreciate the meaning of collaboration. Although I was the one with the camera, the film could have never been made without the partnership of our Haitian team, who had most of our on the ground contacts, access to transportation, and language ability. Being a foreign woman, who doesn’t speak the language, and is carrying around a huge camera, can be a daunting thought, however, the project was able to take precedence over all of those potential fears because of the support of Mackendy, James and Peter. They have continued to film and keep up with our characters and the political status, and will wrap the project for us after the 2nd round of the election is over.
Written by Lena Jackson, in Guatemala.
For more information, please visit www.democracyinhaiti.com
Below is a selection of Rodlin’s poetry:
Grenn je n mèt fiskare lesyèl
Nou mèt chache ziltik lonbray
Menm anba bra n
Nou p ap fouti jwenn lakontantman
Kado Bondye pa pou tout moun
Jou n bare lalin nan libètinay
Nou mèt konnen zetwèl nou fin file
Dènye jou n se nan men lèzòt
N ap pase l
© 2011 Rodlin
Gift of God
Our eyes could be fixed upon the sky.
We could look for shadows for eternity
But under our arms we could never find happiness
The Gift of God is not for everyone
The day we catch the moon in depravity
We would then understand our shooting star had gone
We will spend our last day in the hands of others