Anthology Film Archives

STRUGGLE OF MEMORY: FORGETTING HAITI, REMEMBERING AYITI

February 9 – February 26

All struggles for liberation are struggles of memory. In 1804, the masses of Saint-Domingue rose up to challenge the systems of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. A rebellion turned into the Haitian Revolution and created the first Black Republic. Taking place almost a century before the invention of cinema, this worldmaking event could not have been recorded via the moving image. Yet both the stifling and resurfacing of the Haitian Revolution have been cinematic concerns – especially considered alongside a more recent historical episode: the dynastic dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean “Baby Doc” Claude Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986. Through the lens of two historical acts 150 years apart, Haitian Cinema has developed in an ongoing tension between repression and liberation, between forgetting and remembering.

Haiti first appeared on film through the often-uninformed gaze of hostile outsiders. Most damaging was the image created through American Cinema, as early as the 1932 WHITE ZOMBIE. Sensationalizing fictions and documentaries painted a picture of a troubled, savage island of total otherness – which served to justify the U.S. occupation between 1915 and 1934. Extending the claims for autonomy and self-determination made by the revolution, many Haitian filmmakers have corrected and replaced these false, exotifying stereotypes with their own forms of audiovisual narration and recollection. During the Duvalier dictatorships, this emancipatory, subversive and creative potential of Haitian Cinema was brutally stifled and censored. Although most could only work in exile, Haitian filmmakers both documented and have continued to revisit that period of contested memories.

This film series encompasses three broad categories of filmmakers: Haitians, diasporic or hyphenated Haitians, and non-Haitians. Maya Deren’s DIVINE HORSEMEN, Jac Avila & Vanyoska Gee’s KRIK? KRAK! TALES OF A NIGHTMARE, and a program of shorts made between 1938 and 2020 reveal both changes and continuities in how foreigners have interpreted the island and its citizens. Most of the programs here are by contemporary artists and filmmakers working inside and outside of Haiti, both collectively, in the case of the “The Living and the Dead Ensemble”, and individually, in the case of Haitian-Canadian Miryam Charles and Haitian-Americans Michèle Stephenson, Guetty Felin, and Michelange Quay. Across a wide range of styles, genres, shared histories, and scattered geographies, their works deal with questions of identity, migration, loss, belonging, and endurance. Likely the most recognized filmmaker in the series, Raoul Peck's crucial debut HAITIAN CORNER will screen alongside other works focused on Haiti. Finally, there are the pillars of early Haitian Cinema: Arnold Antonin, who has made crucial contributions with his extensive, militant, and predominantly non-fiction filmography; Rassoul Labuchin, a Marxist poet; and Jacques Arcelin. Their cumulative contributions have amounted to a monumental effort of imagination and political education in Haitian Cinema.

“Struggle of Memory: Forgetting Haiti, Remembering Ayiti” centers on remembrance, as it explores how the island – as Ayiti and as Haiti – has been represented, forgotten, and remembered. This is not a question of “good representation” and “bad representation” but of power and autonomy over the means of representation and storytelling. Thus, the importance of language and making films in Kreyòl, for both genuine accessibility to the island’s majority and for political self-determination. Documenting the everyday lives and ordinary experiences of Haitians has been central to a cinema that serves as a people’s history and archive of collective memories. Ayiti and Haiti: a people and a place whose legitimate right to make, remake, and narrate themselves continually returns to the necessity of looking back to go forward.

“Struggle of Memory” is guest-programmed by Yasmina Price, who wrote the introduction above.
Special thanks to Carlos Adriano; Arnold Antonin; Jac Avila; Miryam Charles; Guetty Felin; Raoul Peck; Michelange Quay; Michèle Stephenson; Matthew Barrington (Barbican); Valentine Blassel (Cinéma Defacto); Paul Corbanese; Léa Daudon (mk2 Films); Annouchka de Andrade; Christina Demetriou (Oyster Films); Adèle Dupuy (Velvet Film); Efuru Flowers (Flourishing Films); Anaïs Gagliardi (Memento International); Carlos A. Gutiérrez (Cinema Tropical); Louis Henderson; Edda Manriquez (Academy Film Archive); Olivier Marboeuf (The Living and the Dead Ensemble); Colleen O’Shea (Women Make Movies); Sandra Schulberg (IndieCollect); TiCorn; and Moira Tierney.

Upcoming Screenings

  • Benjamin Dupuy & Kim Ives
    BITTER CANE
    February 24 at 4:45 PM
    February 26 at 7:30 PM

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