Budding documentary filmmaker Dave Fils-Aime has always had a little activist growing in him. A graduate of Yale University, Fils-Aime grew up in Martissant, Haiti and attended Saint Jean l’Evangeliste, an all-boy Catholic school. He says he and his family moved to the United States before the start of high school. “Although I was happy to finally be able to visit America,” Fils-Aime recalls, “my parents’ decision to stay in the country did not go well with me. I was saddened by the idea of having to forfeit the opportunity of attending my dream school with some of my closest friends.”
With time, the teen accepted his destiny and excelled in school and graduated as one of the top students in his high school in South Florida. Fils-Aime received a Miami Herald Silver Knight Award winner for his outstanding academic excellence and community service. His entrance into Yale provided him a platform as a budding community leader. He I served as the president of Yale’s Klib Kreyol (Haitian Cultural Organization). During a one-year leave of absence from Yale, Fils-Aime interned for Organizing for America, the successor organization of Obama for America during President Obama’s first term. He also served as a community organizer for the city of Miramar in Florida, which led to his being chosen to drive the White House Press Corps in a presidential motorcade during a visit by President Barack Obama to Miami.
Fils-Aime’s awareness about Haitian causes grew when he worked on community leader Marleine Bastien’s congressional campaign as a Volunteer Coordinator. He also wrote his senior thesis on Haiti during the early 2010s.
After turning down the opportunity to work on President Obama’s reelection campaign, Fils-Aime acccepted an offer from the United Nations Development Programme in Haiti, where he worked as a donor relations and resource mobilization consultant. While in Haiti, Fils-Aime launched a youth-driven program Basketball to Uplift the Youth (Baskètbòl pou Ankadre Lajenès).
Somehow, filmmaking emerged in this equation. Fils-Aime founded DaliReel Productions, his film company, and his fixation on the South of Haiti provided the inspiration for his first Haiti-focused production entitled, well, South of Haiti. The documentary was touted “The Best Tourism Video You’ll See All Year” by travel website Skift. It was Staff Pick by the video sharing site Vimeo and was also singled out by Canada.com as one of its “Monday Inspiration” Videos.
Dave Fils-Aime looking very pensive on a documentary set.
DaliReel Productions is your very own production company. What drew you to film and documentary filmmaking.
Well, one of my main roles as the Director of Operations of the Yale Men’s Basketball was to film the team’s games and to coordinate film exchange with other teams. I was also responsible for putting together a highlight video of the team’s best plays of the season to be played at the end of year banquet. Through this experience, I became extremely interested in filming and editing, and in ultimately using it as a medium to educate people about Haiti.
This documentary about Haiti is your very first production?
Actually, when I led the Yale International Relations Association election observation trip to Haiti, I took the initiative to film the entire experience and to use the footage to put together a documentary film titled Ayiti Leve: The Political Reconstruction of Haiti. That was my very first production. Although we have had private screenings of the film, we have not yet made it available to the public. Over the past year, I’ve been working on an updated version with my collaborator James Murphy, and we hope to make it available to the public in the coming months.
What drew you to the southern part of Haiti, and what ultimately made you feel that this documentary needed to be a reality?
It was actually through a retreat organized by some co-workers in collaboration with the tour guide company J’adore le Sud that I was able to discover the south of Haiti. It was my first time visiting the area and I was simply amazed by the region’s beauty, the breathtaking beaches, the magnificent caves, the wonderful waterfalls, and the fascinating historical sites that have stood the test of time. I felt that I had an obligation to share this experience with the world, to show a Haiti that most don’t even know exist. But I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own if I wanted the end product to be a topnotch piece. A year earlier, I had met filmmaker Alex Horner in Haiti through my good friend Jimmy Toussaint’s Haiti volunteer program. When Alex showed me some of his work, I was particularly impressed by his strong technical skills and great vision. He suggested the possibility of joining forces in the future to produce short films/documentaries on Haiti, and I expressed my strong interest in forging such a partnership. So, as soon as I returned to Port-au-Prince from the trip down south, I contacted Alex about doing a project on the region and he was immediately on board. Alex recruited Nick Mihalevich, a sound technician, to join us on the project, and a few months later they both flew down to Haiti from Minnesota to capture images and sounds over a period of 10 days.
Filmmaking can be tough territory. What are some of the things you’ve learned that you feel are must-know information for those who want to get into filmmaking.
Filmmaking is most definitely a tough territory. The most important lesson I’ve learned and that I would like to share with people interested in entering the field is that if you’re not willing to give it your all, do not even think about pursuing a project. Because even when you pour all your effort into a project, there is no guarantee that it will pan out. If I had not been fully intent on seeing the South of Haiti project become a reality, it would have remained simply a beautiful proposal on paper. I sent the project proposal for sponsorship to government ministries and a wide range of private enterprises, but we did not receive any positive feedback. Unfazed by the lack of interest in the project, Alex, Nick and I pooled our own funds together to finance the project. The lesson learned is: if you and your team are not passionate enough about a project to make sacrifices for it, the project will not become a reality.