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CARIBBEAN CULTURE AND BEYOND
Changing the story: The Jacmel Ciné Institute
The Jacmel Ciné Institute offers free training to budding Haitian filmmakers — with even more ambitious plans afoot
There are countries that tell their own stories, and countries whose stories have been told for them. Haiti has long been one of the latter, portrayed in film and on TV as a conflicted, mysterious land of poverty and corruption. But now Haiti is attempting to change that narrative.
“A film industry in any nation is an important part of cultural heritage and identity and economic activity. On an international level, the news and image of Haiti abroad for too long have been negative and led by a foreign or certainly sensationalistic narrative,” explains David Belle, founder of the Jacmel Ciné Institute, in a telephone interview from New York. “Over the next ten years we’re going to have hundreds of filmmakers coming through the institute. That might start to balance the narrative. Haitians telling their own stories. That’s really important.”
A city of forty thousand people, located on the country’s south coast, Jacmel is celebrated for its arts scene, its papier-
International filmmakers, actors, and other film professionals offer training at the school. They have included the actor Jimmy Jean Louis, cinematographer Hermes Marco, and directors Annie Nocenti and Zach Niles.
“All of our training is entirely free,” Belle says. “Only one per cent of high school graduates in Haiti can afford college, so from the beginning we were determined to make this a programme that would let talented underprivileged youth afford training.” He adds that the real cost is about US$5,000 per year for each student. “It’s not cheap — it’s a proper college environment. And we’re able to do it because of the generosity of friends and partners and donors around the world. We need to grow constantly our network of supporters who believe in the power of education to change lives and transform a nation.”
Belle’s vision is to make Jacmel a centre of film production — he styles it “Jollywood”, after Hollywood, Bollywood, and Nollywood, the US, Indian, and Nigerian film industries, respectively. “Nigeria has the third largest film industry in the world, and it’s an industry model that I think is applicable to Haiti and other developing countries,” Belle says. Nollywood emphasises fast-
Movies are sold inexpensively throughout the country through open-
“The ideal objective is creating something similar, on a smaller scale. In a Haitian context, there’s ten to twelve million people living in Haiti, and a huge desire for entertainment products, and we’re building local capacity to produce that.”
Keziah Jean, a 2011 graduate of the institute, studied “realisation, how to write a screenplay, editing, and cinematography.” She praises the school’s work. “Ciné Institute is one of the best gifts we could give to Haiti,” she wrote in an email. “To train young people without money through the cinema, how to show or explain a story by images — this is the future of the country. Thanks to the Institute, now I can say that I am professionally fulfilled and my dream is to become one of the best Haitian filmmakers.”