Here's the first of a few short posts about my favorite films of the San Francisco International Film Festival, shown at the Pacific Film Archive.
First was Ghosts of Cité Soleil, a documentary about the poorest neighborhood in Haiti, by Asger Leth. The main characters 2Pac and Bily are armed gang leaders, or chimères who develop a close, at times sexual relationship with a somewhat flawed French aid worker Lele. This is surprising in the context of such a brutal documentary. I wonder how much her devolving from being a sympathetic negotiator, then nurse, then Florence Nightingale was played up for dramatic effect. Of course the narrative was most likely composed in the editing room, and it is unclear if Lele actually opens her heart during a wake. Was she mirroring or experiencing the effect of a power outage, rage, and the hunt for an emergency generator, or was it Leth choosing to splice her story in the mythic order of love following death? The sibling rivalry between 2Pac and Bily make for Shakespearean tragedy that is completely devoid of comedy.
The soundtrack features music by Wyclef Jean, and by 2Pac and his brother who reach out to Wyclef from a great distance, performing for him via speakerphone. It left me wanting to learn much more about Aristide, Haiti, and the U.S. involvement or lack of involvement during the various power shifts, protests, and bloodbaths. I'm afraid I question whether or not Aristide was a champion of the poor, after seeing this film, and the hypocrisy it reveals. Certainly the post-Aristide regime was not any easier on the people of the slums there. Asger has Lele shift from being philosophically opposed to guns to advising the chimères to hide and stockpile their weapons during peace talks with the U.S. backed unelected interim government, led by a wealthy Haitain-American. Ghosts of Cité Soleil is a soulful documentary, shot at great risk, that leads to a deep desire for investigation and critique. It also champions music and art as a vehicle to drive out violence in the hearts of child soldiers.