Among the films that will be screened at this year’s edition of the Haiti Cultural Exchange Haiti Film Fest is Filmmaker Mario Delatour’s From Kiskeya to Haiti: Where Did Our Trees Go (French title: De Kiskeya a Haiti: Mais Où Sont Passés Nos Arbres). It’s like Delatour to tackle serious subjects in his films. Born in Venezuela to a Haitian couple, the Brooklyn-raised filmmaker has tackled everything from a 20th Century invasion of Haiti to Arab immigration in Haiti. Now, the Amistad Films company founder is making Haiti’s often-debated-about forest the crux of his latest work.
Kreyolicious: When did you first realize the importance of Haiti’s environment?
As one who resides in Haiti there’s not a day that goes by that you are not being confronted with one environmental issue or another. Whether its the massive amount of uncollected garbage in the streets or the spectacle of Haiti’s denuded hills, one cannot but be concern by Haiti’s environmental woes.
They are no quick fixes to Haiti’s environmental issues. Addressing the problems are indeed a tall order. Having said [that], it is not like Haiti cannot reverse the situation. Other her countries have faced equally-challenging situations, but Haiti needs to tackle those issues now as the path will be a long one.
When I was approached in 2014 by Madame Edita Vokral the-then Swiss ambassador to Haiti to do a film about Haiti’s forests, I honestly have to say that I hesitated considerably as anything related to the environment is huge and challenging. My attitude I must say was, “Ok” and then, “What”!
Kreyolicious: What was the hardest thing about making this film?
Finding the right angle and one that will hold the road is always the most difficult thing for me when I make a film. Where do you start when dealing with such a vast topic as the environment and how do you leave the viewer with a glimmer of hope when all seems so tragic.
As a rule, I like to isolate of the problem, find out the origins of the problem, how it got started, and if possible, find out who the culprits were. Of course, pointing the finger at a group of people does not solve the problem. It helps you to better understand the problem but you need to leave the viewer with a variety of solutions as to how to remedy the problem.
Mario Delatour poses with members of Haiti’s Artist’s Institute with one of Haiti’s forests in the background. Photo Credit: Marc-Henry Valmont
Kreyolicious: People want to be entertained. When you’re tackling a serious subject like this, how do you approach it?
When I went to film school many years ago in Los Angeles, one of my professors told us a story in class about a big studio boss who once told a filmmaker “If you have a message, I suggest you take it to Western Union” all of this to say that films are meant to entertain and should not be message driven. Well I wholly disagree, I feel that films can be used are a powerful educational tool. Many people came up to me after viewing my last film From Kiskeya to Haiti: where have our trees gone?? and say to me “Oh I didn’t know that, I always thought charcoal was the cause of deforestation in Haiti!
In the case of this very difficult topic, I opted to put a lot of emphasis on the historical part of deforestation. I knew that if I had done tha,t it would have captivated people’s attention. Deforestation in Haiti is not a recent phenomenon. It goes back to the colonial days, and—some might argue—before that. A man whom I credit for having taking me by the hand and guide me through this tedious process is agronomist-economist and professor Alex Bellande who wrote a very informative book on the topic entitled Haiti déforestée, Paysages Remoldelés [Deforested Haiti, Remodeled Landscapes]. In fact, the whole idea of the film to begin with was to accompany Mr. Bellande’s book.
Kreyolicious: Is this your favorite documentary so far of all the works you’ve produced as a filmmaker?
If there is one thing I have to say about this film is that I particularly enjoyed making it as I had great help from the crew, great support from the Swiss cooperation particularly from new Swiss ambassador Jean Luc Virchaux and all of my other sponsors like Lorraine Mangones of FOKAL and Mr. Carl Braun the president of Unibank. Alex Bellande who worked on the film as a consultant was a tremendous asset, a wealth of information. Writer-journalist Joel Dreyfuss offered his know-how free-of-cost as a script doctor, hugely talented Jael Auguste did a great musical score, and my editor Laurence Magloire delivered a fine film. I wouldn’t end this without saluting the work of Dolores Neptune and Dangelo who did a super job of narrating the film. So, yes, it has a special place in my heart you could say.
I strongly encourage everyone to come out and see this film at the Haiti Film Fest 2017 where it will be making its premiere in New York.
[Main Photo Credit: Dangelo Neard]
Filmmaker Mario Delatour’s film will screen on May 13 at 2 p.m. at St. Francis College | Maroney Theater |180 Remsen Street | Brooklyn, NY 11201 |
CLICK HERE to visit the Haiti Cultural Exchange website and learn more about filmmaker Mario Delatour and the other filmmakers taking part in Haiti Cultural Exchange Haiti Film Fest!