Ghanaian-born Trinidadian filmmaker’s latest feature film, Haiti Bride (which was filmed on location in Haiti) will begin its international run on the film festival circuit in 2015. In the meantime, here is a 2013 ttff “Filmmaker in Focus” excerpt of short description and interview with the director:
Robert Yao Ramesar is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading filmmakers. He has many short films to his credit, and his first feature, SistaGod, about the coming of a black female messiah in a post-apocalyptic world, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, and subsequently screened at the ttff/06. The film’s sequel, Her Second Coming, screened as a work-in-progress at the ttff/09.
Since then he has shot a feature in Barbados, Stranger in Paradise (yet to be released), and is in post-production on a film he shot in Haiti, called Haiti Bride. He was also recently nominated for the Yellow Robin Award for Caribbean and Latin American filmmakers, the winner of which will be announced at the second edition of Curaçao International Film Festival Rotterdam, which takes place from 4–7 April.
We caught up with Yao at Trevor’s Edge bar in St Augustine (a sometime ttff screening venue), east of Port-of-Spain, near the University of the West Indies, where he lectures in the film programme. He told us about Haiti Bride [. . .].
How did you come to make a film in Haiti? Haiti was always on my radar as the priority space in the Caribbean for me to engage in and make films about. I was directing a Chinese co-production in Barbados in 2010 when the earthquake struck and I felt really trapped; I’d have left immediately for Haiti if I could. I didn’t know what friends there were alive or dead. I vowed that the next feature I made would be a Haitian feature, a post-earthquake feature. As soon as I got the opportunity I went there to do Haiti Bride.
What is the story? Haiti Bride centres around a young lady who leaves Haiti in 2004 with her family, with the evacuation, when Aristide is thrown out of power, as the family is close to Aristide. They are domiciled in New York and the parents vow never to return under the present political situation. Some years later a Haitian guy shows up in New York, and falls in love with the girl. He wants to live in the States, and she wants to go back to Haiti. The family is livid, but they finally strike a compromise, which means they’ll have the wedding in Haiti. Unfortunately the date and time of the wedding coincide with the earthquake.
What was the experience like shooting in Haiti? It was extremely hard. It was me alone. It was extremely rough, physically, just to negotiate that terrain and shoot alone; it was tough on my body. That would have been late 2010 and early 2011. In June 2012 I went with Edmund Attong, my cinematographer, and we finished the rest of the film.
In the past, too, on your films it’s basically been a two-man crew. Why do you work with such a skeletal crew? Because I do ultra-low-budget feature films, and I really can’t afford to pay volunteers. The two of us roughed it out in Haiti for five weeks. We had a lot of close shaves with death. It was literally hard on the body. But that helped us feel at least a fraction of the hardship the Haitian people were feeling. We had to feel the ground and feel the devastation of the landscape and even the people to be honest to the film.
That really changed a lot, in terms of the aesthetic of the film. It’s a very stark film, but a film with a lot of hope as well. I didn’t just shoot the ruins, I shot a lot of what people don’t see in the media of Haiti, the beauty and power of the country. There’s a lot of green hills and fertility.
As to the characters themselves, I didn’t want extremes. There’s always a subhuman or a superhuman thing with Haiti, from the mythology of its heroes to the struggle of the people today. I just wanted to get as mundane and as regular—whatever that means—characters as I could. I wanted to see people going about their business. The film was very much inspired by the highs and lows and days and nights of regular folk.
In the end it was deeply satisfying. This is the most satisfying film I’ve made. The funny thing is, with all the hardship, it was the lowest amount of stress that I’ve encountered for a feature. [. . .]
See Caribbeing’s trailer of Haiti Bride here:
For full interview, see http://www.ttfilmfestival.com/2013/03/filmmaker-in-focus-robert-yao-ramesar/
Also see related articles http://www.trinidadexpress.com/sunday-mix/Caribbeing–in-Africa-269703581.html?m=y&smobile=y and http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2013/10/the-trinidad-and-tobago-guardian-shares-ramesars-vision-of-caribbeing-haiti/