Martinique’s Most Acclaimed Filmmaker, Euzhan Palcy, Continues to Put Her Home Island in the Spotlight

Award-winning director’s Career Retrospective at the MoMA celebrates her work and the island that helped shape it.

Martinique is in the spotlight again, thanks to its most celebrated filmmaker, Euzhan Palcy, whose life’s work will be featured as part of the special Filmmaker in Focus exhibition series at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, May 18-30, 2011. The series, which showcases nine Palcy films, marks the first comprehensive U.S. retrospective for the Martinique-born Palcy, who is noted for being the first black female director produced by a major Hollywood studio.

Palcy left Martinique for Paris in 1975 to study at the Sorbonne, earning a master’s degree in French Literature and a film degree from Louis Lumière film school. In 1983, she shot her first feature Rue Cases-Nègres (Sugar Cane Alley), a film that documents the love and sacrifice of a poor black family living on a Martinique sugar cane plantation in the 1930s. An unqualified success, Sugar Cane Alley was honored with 17 international awards, including a César (French equivalent to an Oscar) for best first film and the Silver Lion and Best Actress Award at Venice Film Festival.

From this impressive start, Palcy went on to produce and direct more than 15 narrative and documentary films, exploring such complex social themes as race, gender and politics from the artist’s decidedly feminist point of view. Her skill behind the camera attracted some of the top Hollywood actors of recent years, including Susan Sarandon, Donald Sutherland, and Alan Alda, each anxious to work under her guidance. Even the great Marlon Brando was so moved by her script for her second film, the 1989 classic A Dry White Season, that he returned from retirement to act in the production for free.

While A Dry White Season dealt with the serious issue of apartheid in South Africa, Palcy showed her range by highlighting the cultural richness of her Caribbean world: Simeon (1992) her third film is a true celebration of music, fantasy and Caribbean life. Her next project, the three-part documentary Aime Cesaire, A Voice for History (1994) paid tribute to Martinique’s favorite son; poet, politician and hero of the freedom movements in the French-speaking world.

“Filmmaker in Focus: Euzhan Palcy” at the MoMA will feature each of these classics, as well as Ruby Bridges (1998), The Killing Yard (2001), Parcours de Dissident (The Journey of the Dissidents 2006), and Les Mariées de I’Isle Bourbon (The Brides of Bourbon Island 2007).

Muriel Wiltord, director, Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA, commented on the retrospective, saying: “All of Martinique takes great pride in the achievements of our shining stars like Euzhan Palcy. Her work has done much for Martinique, the Caribbean and the rest of the world, while also inspiring our young artists to follow in her footsteps.”

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