Italian film bids to help Haitians
Movie exposes Dominican sugar plantation abuses
ANSA) - Rome, July 20 - Italian director Claudio Del
Punta is hoping his new, hard-hitting film
about the exploitation of Haitian sugar plantation
workers in the Dominican Republic will focus
public attention on abuses that have been repeatedly
denounced by human rights groups.
"Haiti Cherie throws the spotlight on a tragedy that has
been going on for many, many years," Del
Punta said in an interview with ANSA on Friday.
He said he was thrilled Haiti Cherie had been selected
for next month's Locarno Film Festival, where
it will be the only Italian movie vying for the event's
prestigious Golden Leopard.
"This should get people talking about the film and the
problems it exposes," he said. "The festival
is interested in films dealing with strong social issues
so I can't think of a better place for it
to debut," said the 47-year-old Tuscan filmmaker. Del
Punta shot the movie in the Dominican
Republic, where at least 500,000 Haitians toil on the
country's sugar plantations in conditions
described as modern-day slavery by international human
It recounts the tale of a Haitian couple and a
14-year-old boy who decide to escape their desperate
lives on a plantation and make their way back to Haiti.
The main actors - Yeraini Cuevas and Valentin Valdez who
play the couple and Jean Marie Guerin who
plays the youngster - are all Haitians who actually work
and live on the plantations.
The director stressed that while the film's plot was
fictional, the experiences suffered by the
characters were completely realistic.
"I wanted to show what life is like in the 'bateyes',"
Del Punta said, referring to the encampments
set up on the outskirts of the sugar plantations where
the cane cutters are forced to live.
The workers live crowded together in the communal bateyes
which usually lack running water, toilets,
electricity and cooking facilities, as well as health
care services and schools.
There are some 400 bateyes scattered across the Dominican
The cane cutters toil for up to 14 hours a day for what
human rights organisation Amnesty
International has termed "derisory wages" (typically the
equivalent of $2.5 a day), while some are
paid in vouchers which can only be used at plantation
The freedom of workers to leave the bateyes is also often
restricted, turning them into virtual
prisons that are patrolled by armed guards. A March 2007
report by Amnesty International detailed
its long-standing concerns regarding discrimination,
racism and xenophobia against Haitian migrants
living in the neighbouring Dominican Republic and
particularly its bateyes.
According to a 2005 world anti-slavery report funded by
the European Union, claims of batey abuses
by international authorities range from "murder to
maltreatment, from mass expulsions to flagrant
exploitation, from deplorable living conditions to the
failure to acknowledge workers' rights".
Del Punta highlighted the contrast with the thriving
tourist industry in a country visited by five
million people, mostly Westerners, every year.
"They go for holidays in luxury resorts without realising
that just 30 minutes away from these
amazing beaches, a situation exists that is akin to the
He said the blame lay with the Dominican government,
military and industrialists.
"They all share responsibility because they're the ones
reaping the benefits. This is knowing
discrimination by a country towards its weaker, poorer
neighbour," he said.
"I appeal to journalists to talk about this problem. The
only solution is applying political
pressure to the Dominican Republic to stop these abuses,"
Del Punta filmed Haiti Cherie - his fifth feature movie -
between December 2005 and March 2006.
Initially unable to gain a producer's interest in the
movie, he financed it entirely by himself,
taking out a bank loan and shooting in digital.
The only person he took with him from Italy was the sound
technician - the rest of the crew and cast
he found locally on his arrival in the Dominican
He said a lot of the filming had to be done secretly and
that twice he was kicked off plantations by
“It was okay for me because I'm white and Western but for
the actors it was very dangerous,” he said.
Amnesty International praised the initiative.
Riccardo Nuri, spokesman for the Italian branch of the
London-based organisation, told ANSA: "It's
important that a film has taken on this highly serious
"Cinema is a powerful tool for bringing issues which are
often ignored by the traditional media to
the public's notice".
Del Punta is now hoping participation in the Locarno Film
Festival, which runs from August 1-8, will
help him find a distributor for Haiti Cherie.
Asked if the actors would be attending, he replied:
"Unfortunately no. They don't have a passport
and are unable to leave the country. They are living in
the bateyes and have never even seen a film
in their lives".
The director of this movie is Luce Turnier's son-in-law.
We hope that the film will win a prize at
the film festival Locarno Switzerland in August. Will let
you know next month. It is the only
Italian film nominated.
Jimmie & Gisele
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