Q&A with Esery Mondesir | Screenshots

Haitian filmmaker Esery Mondesir discusses his documentary triptych exploring the lives of his compatriots in the diaspora

  • Courtesy Esery Mondesir

“I was shooting with my heart”

Haiti has a long-established global diaspora, which has only grown since the 2010 earthquake that pushed the world’s first Black republic into further economic and political precarity. Esery Mondesir, a Haitian domiciled in Canada, is the director of a trilogy of recent documentary films about his country’s diaspora. Una Sola Sangre (2018) is a portrait of the Galde family, who have lived in Cuba for sixty years. The other two films — Paria, My, Brother, I Follow You, Show Me the Route to the Springs (2019) and What Happens to a Dream Deferred? (2019) — explore the lives of Haitian migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, who live in hope of entering the United States.

Using his identity as a fellow Haitian as a starting point, Mondesir has made a textured triptych of films that reflect an exemplary empathy for their subjects, films that allow traditionally marginalised subjects agency in telling their own stories. He spoke with Jonathan Ali about his filmmaking process.

How did you come to make Una Sola Sangre?

I met the Galde siblings in 2011 during a week-long vacation in Havana. I was captivated by the stories they shared with me, and suggested we make a film together. They agreed. The following spring, I went back to Cuba to start filming. Silvia, one of the sisters, had invited me to stay at her house, and it wasn’t long before my camera became a regular fixture in the community for the following two weeks and the many times I went back to capture additional footage.

And how did you come to make the Tijuana films?

In December 2018 I went to Tijuana to spend the end-of-year celebrations with fellow Haitians I had previously contacted online. What was impressive about those productions was how quickly those guys and I became comfortable enough to work together. Thinking back about it, I think it had to do with the fact that I was always transparent about what brought me there, and my own migration story.

You characterise your subjects as “collaborators.” Can you elaborate?

I came to filmmaking with a set of political values and life experiences. Questions of authorship and representation were important to me from the beginning: who is telling whose stories? When I first met the Galde family in Havana, I knew right away there was a story there that was worth telling, but I also knew that it was not my own story. Out of respect for the community, I needed to get them involved in the process of making the film. The situation was the same in Tijuana.

But I don’t want to be deceitful here by not recognising the power dynamics that exist between me, a trained filmmaker, and the subjects in my films. Although we share “one blood,” I walked into these communities from North America, and that fact carries with it a set of assumptions about my status, education, wealth, and social power. These dynamics are often beyond our individual control. What I can do is be mindful of them and not try to obscure them.

What Happens to a Dream Deferred? is the most formally — and politically — dynamic of the films.

I did not have much time to prepare shooting sessions with the guys in that film. So, the formal construction happened in post-production. I was shooting with my heart. My work in post[-production] was to take all that emotion and bring it into a conceptual framework so that it made sense in my head, too. Then you realise it’s all connected. It becomes clear that these guys’ chance at fulfilling their dream of becoming hip-hop artists is connected to the choice of a white Republican at the ballot box in Cleveland, Ohio, next November. These Haitians dress like Black Americans, sing hip-hop in Kreyòl and English, but they’re also fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. They are the face of our future. Can we now talk about how they reclaim their humanity? That’s the type of interrogation that I am interested in.

Una Sola Sangre (40 minutes)
Paria, My Brother, I Follow You, Show Me the Route to the Springs (20 minutes)
What Happens to a Dream Deferred? (25 minutes)
Director: Esery Mondesir

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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