Haitian pumpkin soup, better known as soup joumou, fills the tummies of Haitian-Americans year-round, but few know the traditions behind the dish. Haitian-American filmmaker Dudley Alexis decided to unravel the full history behind the dish so often associated with Haitian Independence. The result of all his research is the documentary Liberty in a Soup. The documentary screened at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and was recently showcased at the Miami Film Festival and at the prestigious Perez Art Museum in Miami. The filmmaker actually had pots of soup joumou served at the film’s initial premiere!
Kreyolicious: As a kid growing up in Miami, how did you view pumpkin soup?
Well, I grew up pretty much half my life I Haiti. I moved to Miami at the age of fourteen. When I moved to Miami, what always surprised me, was how the tradition continued…almost completely unchanged from how it was in Haiti.
Kreyolicious: You did some shorts prior…how did they help you tackle a feature doc?
It helped me practice my craft. See what worked, and what doesn’t. The more you practice, the better you get at it. [And you’re] able to discover your craft.
Kreyolicious: Do you think film school is essential?
I would not say school per se. But, I would say [that with] anything you want to be good at or master…you to need study as much as possible, and it is a continuing process.
Kreyolicious: Did you find anything surprising when you decided to start the research process for Liberty in a Soup?
The most surprising thing I found doing this documentary are the roles Haitian woman played in the Haitian revolution. There was a significant high number of Haitian woman who fought in the revolution, from Sanite Belair who rose to be a lieutenant in the Haitian revolution, to Marie-Claire Heureuse who is the one that started the tradition of soup joumou. [Even] today, they continue to inspire that tradition.
Kreyolicious: Was it easy bringing all these experts together to contribute to the project?
No. It was not easy. But, you have to be persistent, [and] eventually they will get back to you.
Kreyolicious: What challenges did you come across?
Mostly financial challenges. The documentary is self-financed. Everything I had to do had to come out come out my own pocket. Even though financially it was challenging, I tried my best not to let that limit my decisions.
Kreyolicious: Liberty in a Soup has been screened at so many festivals. What was that like?
When I screen the documentary, each person has a different reaction or take-away. Haitians who see it, love that I get to show a side of Haiti we don’t always get to see on the screen. Also a kids Haitian kids that grew up in the states many of them did not know why they where drinking Soup Jomou and are discovering the meaning for the first time. Other people will come after the screening and tell me that i completely change their perspective on how they view Haiti.
Kreyolicious: Any words of wisdom for those who want to make a documentary.
I think patience is the best [quality] to have when you are working on a documentary. Understand your subject, and let the story they are telling you guide you in the process.
Kreyolicious: You visit Haiti often?
I cannot say I go often, but I try to make it there at least once a year. I always have a good time and I always encourage people to go.
CLICK HERE to keep up with Liberty in a Soup, filmmaker Dudley Alexis’ look at the history behind Haitian pumpkin soup.