CaribWorldNews, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Weds. June 16, 2010: When the earthquake hit the southern Haitian town of Jacmel on January 12th, students at the country`s only film school, Ciné Institute, were on the ground within hours.
Their classrooms collapsed but they salvaged what equipment they could and filmed the aftermath, the rescue efforts, and the collapse of buildings weakened by the initial impact. The students` footage was broadcast around the world by networks including CNN, PBS and CBC, and their still photographs featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, France`s Le Monde and The UK`s Guardian.
`It felt like a bad dream, some of the time` says student Hermane Desorme, 22. `But it helped tremendously to focus outwards on recording what was going on in the community, rather than focusing inwards on all the stuff that was going on inside my head.`
For three months after the earthquake, the Institute`s classes were taught in the stifling confines of an army tent, hastily erected at the airport. Over 15 short documentaries were produced, on subjects ranging from silent memorial services and stories of heroism to a child`s view of the earthquake.
`Being all together at school helped us deal with the depression that kicked in after the initial adrenaline wore off,` says Ebby Angel Louis, a 28-year-old second year student.
Now four months on, things are slowly getting back to normal for the graduating class of 2010. They`ve found a new home in a former dive centre, an idyllic spot with the turquoise sea winking in the background and classes held outside under bougainvillea trees. The relaxed venue belies a deadly serious intent, though – the creation of a successful Haitian film industry, and the mobilisation of film as a way to empower Haitians to tell their own stories to the world.
The students are hard at work on a full-length documentary about one of Jacmel`s tented camps, which will follow four central characters through the birth, death, violence and joy that comes with everyday life in Haiti.
`When we graduate, we`re all definitely going to keep in contact,` says Ebby. `We need to collaborate with each other and with other creative Haitians to form a cinema culture, because until now we haven`t really had one. We need to pool resources.`
The Ciné Institute was founded in 2008 by American film makers David Belle and Andrew Bigosinski. They managed to attract attention from big names in US cinema, with Francis Ford Coppola among those who initially sent funds to help buy equipment. The students are taught by film makers from all over the world. Annie Nocenti, a teacher at the school, is deeply proud of the work the students have done so far.
`We don`t really have a formal writing culture here.` she explains `So we get the students to work on scripts in brainstorming sessions, and they improvise together to arrive at a plot and find natural dialogue. They`ve become extraordinary film makers.`
`Other people can`t tell our stories the way we can,` says 30-year-old Marie-André. `The Institute runs an agency called Ciné Services, which is helping us to find work in on commercials and on film projects for some of the NGOs.`
Marie-André is working on an autobiographical feature about a woman who leaves her husband when he refuses to let her carry on with her film studies. `I`m the only female sound technician at the Institute,` she says proudly. `I want to see more female technicians coming into the industry, but it`s not always easy for Haitian women to persuade their families to let them study something like this.`
Her ambition? To forge her own career in cinema, then return to the Institute as a teacher one day. `Haitian cinema is going to really start now,` she says confidently.
To contact the Ciné Institute and see the students` work, go to www.cineinstitute.com. – By Gemma Pitcher/Special To CWNN