ITALIAN FILM BIDS TO HELP HAITIAN SUGAR PLANTATION WORKERS
(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
"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 rights organisations.
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
The director stressed that while the film's plot was
fictional, the experiences suffered by the characters were
"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
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
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 1800s".
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," he said.
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 Republic.
He said a lot of the filming had to be done secretly and
that twice he was kicked off plantations by troops.
"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 problem.
"Cinema is a powerful tool for bringing issues which are
often ignored by the traditional media to the public's
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".
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