Still riding the vibes of the previous night’s screening (on a large inflatable screen in a closed-off street in Port-au-Prince’s Ghetto Lanne) attempting to equate the event in Trini terms Yao suggested; “Think a T&T Film Festival screening in Sea Lots of a film made by a Haitian director, that’s the closest approximation I can think of in terms of the experience.”
Established in 2009, the Ghetto Biennale is “a cross-cultural art festival hosted by the collective Atis Rezistans and has been held every two years since 2009 in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. One of the primary objectives was “to enable often excluded Haitian artists to display their work to an international audience. The event strives to transform “un-navigable” spaces into creative platforms to enable artists from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds to come together for artistic production.”
While most of the audience at the screening of Haiti Bride were “Haitians of modest means, who loved it,” many of the visiting Biennale artists (hailing from Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, the UK, Hong Kong, Italy, Jamaica, Martinique, Mongolia, Oman, Peru, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and America) also attended, giving the event a decidedly eclectic feel.
The lead actor Lentz Durand “was amazed at the finished film…as from a screen actor’s perspective, they don’t know how it’s going to look and sound, especially after the edit,” Yao explained. Also in the audience were “the core cast” for Yao’s next Haitian feature and there was “also talk about a Haiti Bride sequel, set 20 years on, when the children of the two ‘brides’ reach out to each other; one in America and the other in Haiti. Think Afrofuturism,” Ramesar said tantalisingly.
Given that the theme of this year’s Biennale is Kreyòl, Vodou and Lakou (the communal –often Vodou- compound) Haiti Bride set off multiple resonances. The dialogue is in Kreyòl and the sound track features traditional Vodou songs sung by Cathy Francois, a 21-year old (at the time of shooting) from Jacmel. “One of the most beautiful moments during the screening was when five Haitian girls perched on top of a Tap Tap (a painted taxi) sang along to the Vodou folksong Erzulie (lwa of love). It brought tears to my eyes,” Yao recalled. Another tearful moment came with the reception of the recently deceased Raf Robertson’s song La Croix Beach—“Raf lives in Haiti,” said Ramesar in tribute to his fellow artist and Caribbeing comrade.
The screening in Haiti represents part of Yao’s “journey” as a Caribbean filmmaker committed to “the primacy of the Caribbean in the frame…the illumination of its landscape and people.” Like many regionalists or Caribbeings, Ramesar regards Haiti as “the ultimate destination of Caribbean culture and history. The first country to have successful Balck Revolution …all roads and veins lead to Haiti, the source.” When the earthquake struck in 2010, he was shooting a (Mandarin language) feature in Barbados. The night of the quake he had a dream “of a bride and groom standing in muddy clothes in the rubble of a church (which became one of the opening scenes in the film) and decided “My next feature would be made there. I felt more than ever I needed to go there, tell stories there…some months later I arrived in Haiti, camera in hand.”
For Ramesar, Haiti Bride represents “a natural progression of Caribbeing aesthetics”, not only for its use of Kreyòl but also for what he calls the “Eyealect”—a visual correlative for our spoken dialect, a visual creole as it were…visual idiosyncrasies played out…to the cadence of a creole song and/or dialogue.” He mentions a couple of scenes from the film: “Like a blind man combing his beard with a white plastic fork in a particular rhythm” or a hairdressing scene which features two sisters, one singing to Erzulie while the other talks of love, as she is groomed for a tryst with her back yard suitor.
Bouyed by the reception, Ramesar insisted that “my work is acting out, articulating an indigenous form of its own.” Looking south and with a touch of Trini picong he mentioned local plans for economic diversification and expressed the hope that in the event of a “billion dollar film industry” he’d get a call up. “The journey now start,” he concluded.