‘Barikad' Explores Forbidden Love in Haitian Society
By Anna Wardenburg-Ferdinand, Haitian Times, 4 December 2002
PORT-AU-PRINCE—Movie theaters, usually filled with Hollywood leftovers translated into French, seem to be featuring a new cast. Films made in Haiti by Haitians and for Haitians are proliferating on billboards throughout the capital, with four films released this year.
One such film, Barikad, released last week, proves that Haiti can hold its own in the film world. The film explores a prevalent subject in the Haitian culture. Most well-off people in Haiti have people who wash their clothes, make their food, shop in the markets, clean, iron and so on. Usually from the popular neighborhoods or the countryside, these laborers earn piddling wages for endless work.
In Barikad, Odenie has been introduced to the home of a wealthy family w
ith an intellectual father who talks about social rights while sending his ill-stricken maid, Sonia, to get better with her family in the countryside.
Odenie, a full-size beauty, takes the job so Sonia not lose it. After taking over the daily household duties, a small spark ignites between her and Thierry, the son of the matron mother, and passive father, with a beautiful sister deeply entrenched in the class in which she was born too.
The spark, over the course of the 111-minute movie, becomes a burning ember when the mother goes to the United States for medical reasons. The chemistry between actors Fabienne Colas and Tibert Handy flows with the pace of the script, developing with each short encounter allowed two people of their statuses.
That the love is there is no question. That two people from different worlds cannot turn that love into a life together seems to be the message, though the filmmakers said they left that open for reflection.
It is a taboo subject: the problem of
relations between a girl working at the house and the child of the head of the house. We know that the subject wasn't very commercial, but we had something we wanted to say, said Richard Senecal, director and producer of the film. It has a lot of messages, and people can ask themselves a lot of questions.
The film moves with ease between the two worlds, one on the top of a hill in a beautiful house. Odenie is from the provinces, but her aunt lives across the great ravine on the hills on the other side.
Some scenes address the realities of Haitian daily life, its subtleties and its language that permits us to enter in the truth of the situation. At the 2 p.m. showing of Barikad at the Imperial theater on Delmas 19, moviegoers laughed and empathized with characters.
The pace of the action is slow, letting the story slowly develop. The actors switch between French and Creole, French used mostly in talking to their parents at the breakfast table where bananas and juice are served with their m
orning dish of spaghetti.
While most of the action takes place in the magnificent home, a hazy shot over the plants in their yard turns clear as we see the hundreds of clustered houses across the divide become sharp. We are now in the house of Odenie's aunt who once worked for the family and raised the boy with whom Odenie has fallen in love.
People will think you are after his money, his name, the aunt said. But with a hard-to-control love, the two share a kiss before class and family issues come between them, sending Odenie back to her mother's house and Thierry to study abroad.
Drama Outside the Theatre The large screen and plush seats at the imperial are similar with most movie-going experience, save for the theater's policy of not allowing the popcorn they sell in the lobby in their screening rooms.
Haitian film took a while to reach the mainstream Haitian culture that frequents movie theaters, Senecal said.
He said Haitian film during the 1970s and early 1980s was more
the domain of what he calls intellectual films that weren't available to the larger population. Then, during the 1980s, when the move from the countryside to the capital brought the swell of the population, filmmakers began using video, greatly cutting the cost of production.
Duvalier fell during that time. There were more people in the city and the market began to evolve. When those [video] films were shown it was an event, the public always responded, said Senecal, sitting in the offices of his video production company, Imagine.
Moviegoers accepted Haitian films with all their imperfections, the director-producer said.
Senecal credits La Fleur Deny for raising the standard of low-budget Haitian films. With La Fleur Deny, people saw they could actually do good quality films, and Haitian film was taken to a new level, Senecal said.
In the past two years, more Haitian films have been appearing on the screen. But the market is limited, Senecal said.
Haitian cinema doesn't hav
e a market. In Haiti, we have about 100,000 people that can go to the movies. Of those 100,000 people, when you take out the money from the distributor and the owner of the theater, what is left is small and in gourdes, and the gourdes is devaluating, he said. Senecal says there is a monopoly in Port-au-Prince cinema that he believes allows movie houses to take 50 percent of the box office money. Adding the cost of the distributor and the 10 percent that goes to the government, Senecal is left with little revenue.
There is no competition, if you don't agree, that's your problem. If I come out with a small percentage, I come out with a lot, he said.
The producer said that finding financing in the country is hard because most businesses always ask for something in return.
The problem we found was that if they were going to give you $1,000, $2,000, they asked for publicity within the film, like showing their bank. These were things that in ‘Barikad' would have ruined the story. We wanted it
to stay very simple. So we looked to other sources, said the first time director-producer.
Senecal said the cost of production, $50,000 (U.S.), was partly financed through the Franco Haitian Television Support Group, which provides technical training to Haitian filmmakers.
While making a film in Haiti does bring in money, it's not enough. Senecal said efforts to bring Haitian films to Haitian communities outside the country have always met with problems.
There are no organized Haitian theaters in the United States, and Senecal said few mainstream theaters would play the films.
Senecal wants to take Barikad to the international festival level where someone might want to buy the film, a way he said that could make making films in Haiti more profitable.
There are films that have been made here lately that can be taken to festivals. I don't mean Cannes . . . but small festivals where you could maybe sell your film. Maybe a television station would want to buy it, for $15,000 or
$20,000, which isn't a huge cost abroad but, for us here, would be a big thing. We need to succeed in creating films that can leave Haiti, and with ‘Barikad' we are going to try, he said.
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