Shortly after returning home from the Peace Corps, I found myself in Haiti with an evangelical Christian men’s prayer group as the official videographer for their short-term mission project of digging a well in a schoolyard. Since I am neither an evangelical Christian nor a man and had never used a video camera until that time, I still am rather unsure how I ever ended up there.
Cast in one of my favourite roles—Erin Parish, girl reporter—I tried to do justice to the khaki, pocket-filled photographer’s vest I was sporting. I badly filmed what I saw, had a knife brandished at me, was involved in a rescue operation of a girl whose mother had covered her burn wounds with goat dung, and was involved in a semi-high speed pursuit that found us weaving through UN tanks. In the week I was there, I saw a bonfire of garbage rage out of control and block a main thoroughfare, a freshly shot body lying in the road, and a child drinking water from a stream which had rotting pig corpses floating in it. And I stayed in the good parts of town.
Port-au-Prince is a teeming, largely lawless metropolis; the most anarchic neighbourhood in a city filled with bandits is the sprawling slum of Cite Soleil. This forms the backdrop of Danish filmmaker, Asger Leth’s, documentary The Ghosts of Cite Soleil. Filmed in 2004, shortly after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country, Leth documents the lives of two Haitian gang leaders, 2pac and Bily. Todd McCarthy of Variety says of the film, “If only due to the access achieved, there has never been anything quite like Asger Leth’s film; it’s amazing it even exists and that the director is still alive.”
The UN gave Cite Soleil the dubious accolade of being “the most dangerous place on earth.” Whether or not it has subsequently relinquished this coveted title to the Baghdad slum Sadr City, Cite Soleil remains one of the closest realisations of the often hyperbolic description “hell on earth” that exists. You can get a little taste of what life in this bleak environment is like at Queens Film Theatre on Saturday night at 7:45 PM.
Also playing on Saturday…
In what might very well prove to be this year’s 3 Needles, Guatemalan prostitutes trade in their stilettos for cleats as they take on female police officers in a game of soccer. Take one part Bad News Bears, one part El Norte, throw in Remember the Titans, garnish with Pretty Woman, shake it in Spanish and you’ve got The Railroad All-Stars. Playing at QFT at 3:00 PM.
Moving on to the southern hemisphere, Ten Canoes is the first film to be made entirely in an Australian Aboriginal language. Set a thousand years ago, interweaving stories of the cinematic present with narratives of the characters’ ancestors, it looks like it could be just luscious,. If Haitian slum-life is a little too much for a Saturday night, go see Ten Canoes at 7:00 PM at QFT.
(Photo above taken by David Robertshaw, Guatemala)