Letter from Charlie Libin

Hello Friends of Cine Institute, Thanks to the efforts of many who made our mission to Jacmel possible! FOCI (Friends of Cine Institute) gathered and shipped (15) donated generators, support equipment, and materials from members of the NYC film community. The shipment was delivered to Jacmel in a container shared with humanitarian and medical supplies collected and arranged by PIH and AFYA. A FOCI fundraiser at the Tribeca Screening Room back in February raised funds for Jim McCullagh, Jim McCmillan and I to travel to Jacmel and work with CI staff and students to implement the installation of the generators where needed. I would also like to thank Jonathan Demme and his staff for working miracles with FOCI.

Jim McCullagh and I arrived in Port au Prince and were met at the airport by Bouqon (a Ciné Institute student). Our driver Jacques and his partner Robert then drove us through the streets of PaP and along Cité Soleil. All city life is now in the streets. People live under tarps and donated tents set up against crumbling structures. Late afternoon we arrive in the southern coastal town of Jacmel. The lovely town has been battered, yet many buildings remain standing.

Picked up at the hotel at 8AM by Robert accompanied by Junior Jovan (a CI student who is our chief electrician “juice master” in-training and translator). We drive a few miles to the CI temporary headquarters at KROS near the airport strip. The Ciné Institute is currently sharing a compound run by Gerald Mathurin of KROS (Kordinasyon Rejyonal Oganysasyon Sides). There a squad of students jumped in and we drove to the depot where our donated equipment has been stored. We spent the better part of the day inventorying the equipment, oiling and checking the generators. Lunch at the CI – and a brief respite out back among the banana trees listening to the students singing a Creole version of “We are the World”. In the afternoon we scouted the St. Michel Hospital. Paula of CI and the students have assembled a list of potential recipients for the generators. The criteria are: public need, practicality, and efficiency of use for those in the CI community. We arrived at the St. Michel Hospital with a small crew of CI students and Jacques’ van fully loaded. We installed 2 Honda 6,500 gennies in the courtyard. While stringing wires over pathways, a woman inside a tent below gave birth to a baby boy. The sounds of the infants’ cries entering the world bring smiles to all.

EDH (Electricity D’Haiti) provides electricity to the country. Prior to the earthquake EDH’S power supply was intermittent at best. Now EDH is more overwhelmed. Back-up generators did exist at some facilities. Problem is everything has moved outside under tents and these large generators are in many cases no longer practical. Fuel costs are also an issue. The portability of the donated generators fill a niche as the infrastructure is rebuilt. We reviewed our tasks with Paula and mapped a plan with Silver and Junior.

Silver is a remarkable guy who takes care of many CI logistics with Paula. Silver started out as a hammock maker and now has a small seaside café. Annie Nocenti teaches her classes near the tents under the banana trees. Jocelyne will translate, as Annie bobs and weaves like Sonny Liston as she shares her analytical knowledge of cinema and her innate sense of Aristotelian dramatic structure. The esprit de corps that Ciné Students possess is inspiring.

We strolled past the now condemned, yet still beautiful old Concorde Cinema (former home of Ciné Institute). With all the destruction it does seem a miracle that no CI students or staff were lost or badly injured. In the afternoon we scouted the tent camp on the grounds of Parfaite Sincerite Des Coeurs Reunis 4 Orient Jacmel. While heading back to CI – thoughts drift to what is on every person’s mind… Rainy season is approaching. The coming winds and rain will wreak havoc in many camps. There is a style of emergency shelter that is a very sturdily constructed tent. Bouncing around the bed of the Toyota pickup, we pull into the CI/KROSS compound. Inside the darkened classroom/temp edit bay – there was Andrew’s face glowing hunched among the students still busy at the Mac consoles editing their material. Every stop at CI’s temp quarters during our stay, we would always be reminded that it is a home away from home for many. Some students are sleeping in tents among the banana trees out back.

We headed East beyond Cayes Jacmel to the Marigot Hospital. One of the transformers is out resulting in all sterilization to be done in washes since the autoclave is 3 phase. The lights were down in one of their wings – and Jimmy diagnosed the problem. A bunch of light fixtures had been shorted out by leaking water. Somehow we found a box of spare ballasts in the storeroom. We deliver a 6,500 w Honda to Kayangel Orphanage. The crumbling building is painted white with pink hearts. Now it resembles a broken gingerbread house. Cribs and all contents are outside under tents.

At dusk we arrived in the city square piled onto the back of the Toyota with Annie, CI students and projection equipment. Silver supervised the setup of the screen and amps for a new Jacmel favorite: “Ciné Lumiere”. The Ciné Institute puts on outdoor screenings of films at various camps. Some CI shorts were shown. The crowd laughed with abandon at a hilarious compilation put together by Zul. Cinema Paradiso Creole Style!!!

We loaded up a 6,500 w Honda and drove up a steep hill to Radio Express (huge radio tower still standing). The station temporarily housed the Ciné Institute prior to their relocation to KROS. Much of the city gains info from radio as EDH is intermittent and internet connections are rare and not always reliable. On the way back we scout Pastor Milien Orphanage up the road from Junior’s home. They have already begun reconstruction and are well staffed.

Back at KROS again – Andrew hunkers down with students. There is Disaster Capitalism and here we have Disaster Culturalism. Attention must be paid to retain and stimulate the local music, art, theater, dance and now Neo-Haitian Cinema movement… comparisons were made during a conversation in one of Annie’s classes…. A sort of combination of Nouvelle Vague and Neo-Realism Cinema is emerging from Jacmel… Annie crowned me a “professeur” and I would teach a class the following day. The lesson: “Action Sequences”. Christophe races 4-wheelers on a dirt track outside of town. We would film him tomorrow.

At CI we stack the batteries alongside the KROS electric enclosure. These will be connected in series and constantly recharged to supplement the gas generator and ongoing EDH blackouts.

I teach my impromptu class the first half of which is devoted to manipulating and controlling light (a bedsheet my visual aid). We then prep for our film portrait of ATV 4-wheeler racer Christophe (also owner of Cyvadier Hotel). We talk about shooting the race, camera positions, safety issues, etc. We then all pile into the back of the Toyota and head out to location – the afternoon light just magical. The students have already been shooting when Christophe and his racing opponent show up.

Kids in the neighborhood are drawn to the circus. Cows, goats, and dogs wander about. The students are so comfortable with cameras – among them Keziah and Marco – both gazelle like and at one with the camera with grace and determination. They find serenity at moments – so important and yet rare in camerapersons – great instincts. Annie concocted this shoot as a sort of diversion from all the recent events and it was a blast for all involved.

 

As the sun goes down feeling melancholy as it is my last night. At CI we say our goodbyes – then jump in with Jacques and Robert for the return to PaP through the mountains. Olivier and Junior hop out at one point and buy me a CD with Haitian and Dominican music. We listen to it as we pass along Cité Soleil. The track is modern yet with sounds of goat’s baaaaing as a chorus. To calm myself as we have several brushes with head-ons on the mountain switchbacks – I let my mind wander to the students… Olivier (probing and curious), Keziah (with the camera – always!) Fritzner pontificating on cinema and other philosophical questions – Bayard, Mari Merci, Andre – Bouqon’s charming smile (he could talk his way through anything). Marco (fascinated by light in all manifestations). Marjorie illuminates. Djimi – a tough teddy bear. Charming Frida, Enette, Cesar, Macdala, Guy (a Haitian Jean Paul Belmondo) the quiet, yet deeply thoughtful Stanley, Frero, Huguens. Ebby is often hunched over his laptop consumed with his latest creations. I look forward to his cinematic voice. Fouki Foura always lights up the room when he coolly strolls in. Zul carried a camera like it was a little bird on his hand.

IN BROOKLYN Jim McCullagh and I were especially happy hearing that Jim McMillan arrived and fell right in with the CI crew. Jim and Junior followed through and delivered the additional generators to camps including ones we had scouted. Had to chuckle hearing Jim fixed the Jeep and was driving around Jacmel. Latest great news: Juice-Master Junior’s going on his first solo mission to install a gennie at the Hospital Bainet!.

Yours,
Charlie Libin

 

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