Words by Nneka Samuel
3 boroughs, 7 days, 16 films. That’s the magical equation for the 3rd biennial, New York-based Haiti Film Fest, taking place May 8 through 15. Presented by Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX), the only organization of its kind in New York with a multidisciplinary focus on Haitian culture, the weeklong festival is poised to attract diverse audiences and partnerships in its biggest film fest yet.
HFF started out as a weekend festival in 2011 at Long Island University and then moved to St. Francis College in 2013. Now, HFF has expanded and is fast becoming a staple in the film festival circuit, providing the opportunity “to create a more nuanced view of our beauty and struggles,” says Regine Roumain, HCK Executive Director. “There were a lot of one-dimensional views on Haiti that existed long before the earthquake. Stories of poverty and upheaval.” But those limited scopes framed a shallow depiction of Haiti and its people, which limits cultural understanding and appreciation, the very things HCX hopes to achieve.
In an effort to seek varied voices and points of view, the festival had an open application process for the first time this year. Roumain proudly states that there’s a good mix of both emerging and established filmmakers in the festival lineup. Some of the films screened also come from student filmmakers.
Highlights from this year’s festival include screenings of Haitian Corner, director Raoul Peck’s first feature film and Port Au Prince Mon Seul et Unique Amour by Arnold Antonin, who is considered one of the founding fathers of Haitian cinema.
Opening night festivities take place May 7 at Drom NYC and will be hosted by Haitian radio personality Carel Pedre of CHOKARELLA. The festival kickoff will feature musical performances and will screen short films Freedom and La Veuve by Matthew Brown and Wood-Jerry Gabriel, respectively. Opening night general admission tickets run at $50; VIP, $125.
Unlike most film festivals that require individual tickets, passes or packages for screenings, some of which cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, Haiti Film Fest is a no-ticket required festival, making it extremely accessible and available to the public. Donations of $10, however, are suggested and will help the festival continue to operate for years to come. Seating is limited and on a first come, first served basis, so be sure to show up early and stay for the Q&As with filmmakers, actors and scholars.
Not in New York City? The Program Archives section on the HCX website will be updated after the festival, providing detailed information about past programs. If any of the films screened at this year’s fest are available for sale, that information will be posted there.