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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This week at SFC: Ghosts of Cite Soleil

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 22nd

Film starts at 8:15. Short films from 7:30pm.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil (Asger Leth/Denmark Haiti/2006/87')

Studiofilmclub would like to thank director Asger Leth for sending us a copy of his film and allowing us to screen it in Trinidad.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil was produced and scored by Haitian born singer-songwriter Wyclef Jean. This is a transcript of his text from the book about the film.

I remember running outside when it rained to catch drops on my tongue for drinking water. I remember running naked in the streets, laughing and dancing as the water splashed on my face. I remember eating mud to pacify the hunger in my stomach. I remember we didn't have money for basic needs; we didn't even have any clothes.

Yet... I remember being happy. I remember feeling joy in the midst of that poverty, a joy built on the spirit of Haiti, and I remember being okay.

These are my memories of a place called Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti. From there to New York City is a long way, but some things will always be a part of you. Every time I go back to Haiti, I have an almost physical reaction to my homeland. It is an indescribable energy that is unleashed even before the plane touches down. I gaze out at the striking, majestic mountains as the plane makes its approach. I brace for the inescapable heat that greets you upon landing. It hits me; I am home.

The people of Haiti, especially her kids, are my family. No matter how long I have been away, my people always welcome me back with open arms. When I look into their eyes, I see myself, and I am able to savor the connection that we share to a past that I have never really left.

That connection came calling unexpectedly on a stormy June night in the summer of 2004. On the advice of a friend, I sat down with my partners to watch raw footage of a documentary by a Danish filmmaker, Asger Leth and his Serbian cinematographer and co-director Milos Loncarevic. Set in the teeming, violent slum on the outskirts of Port-au-
Prince, Ghosts of Cite Soleil tells the story of the Haitian 2pac, a gang leader.

I guess it was somehow fitting that it was raining that summer night. It was as if the lightning from the storm outside suddenly hit all of us inside. As I sat there in my studio, mesmerized by the images on the screen, my instinctive reaction was to hop on a plane for Haiti the next day. Why?

I needed to understand. I needed to see these kids with my own eyes and not through the lens of a camera. I needed them to tell me what had happened to that Haitian spirit from my childhood. I needed to understand why their lives had such potential, yet their eyes were filled with so much rage and pain. And I needed to figure out what I could do to change it.

2pac, and so many of the kids like him in Haiti, have been completely written off by the outside world. It's easy to discard those that seem so different, so less than. They make up faceless statistics in a far away land and seemingly have nothing to offer to the world. But this movie refuses to let you get away with that, challenging the way we tolerate the misery around us. The faces tell you that something has gone horribly wrong in Haiti. But then you realise that there is more to the story.

After seeing Ghosts of Cite Soleil, I couldn't shake the image of 2pac from my mind - or any of the other kids desperately trying to find a way out of the mess that was their lives. Of course, music is one of the reason that I identified with them so immediately. 2pac wanted to be a rapper. While living in the Brooklyn projects, my mom put a guitar in my hand. Adjusting to a new, hostile culture, learning a new language, living with the typical angst of a teenage boy - music became my refuge. It saved my life; 2pac looked to it for his salvation as well.

But this movie is about much more than a kid who wanted to rap. Whether you are a gang leader in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere or a successful executive in the richest, everyone has dreams, everyone feels pain. Ghosts of Cite Soleil is about the dreams that we all have, the kind that you tuck away only to pull out in the most private of moments. It painstakingly lays bare all of the elements - love, hope, pain, despair - that make 2pac as human as you and I.

In some of the songs from the soundtrack of Ghosts of Cite Soleil, I blend 2pac's music with my own. I work to bring his unique talent, his dreams, his distinctive vision to the world. In other tunes, I try to capture the power of the movie itself, creating tracks that mirror its chaos and serenity - the paradox that is Haiti.

You cannot help but to look at the searing, haunting images in this film and not grasp the beauty and tragedy and potential
of 2pac's life - you will never be able to dismiss these images as the faces of expendable human beings.

I may have shared stages with kings and presidents all over the world, a long, long way from Croix-des-Bouquets, but I will never forget my beginnings. I may have received awards and accolades at the highest levels, but I will always be able to look at anyone in the eye and connect at that fundamental human level. I may have some of the creature comforts of American fame and fortune, but my work will always reflect and pay tribute to what is uniquely Haitian and yet unmistakably universal.

Always reaching back for those who come after me, I choose to live my life in a way that proves worthy of the blessings
that I have received.

How will you live yours?

Wyclef Jean
July 2005, New York City

Read an interview with Asger Leth at: www.filmmakermagazine.com/directorinterviews/2007_06_01_archive.php

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