"Serenade for Haiti" tells a story of music and perserverence not unlike that of New Orleans.
Documentary producer and director Owsley Brown was not looking for a movie when he arrived in Port-au-Prince. He found himself at the Sainte Trinité Music School and was immediately struck by it. Brown remembers an indescribably welcoming feeling that he couldn’t explain but knew immediately he had to capture on film. Here the roots of Serenade for Haiti began. This documentary will screen twice over the next week as part of the New Orleans Film Festival, and it follows the intense highs and lows of the seven years in Haiti over which it was filmed, and it highlights the unwavering spirit of the community of the school and the country in the face of an immense challenge. The film is composed of footage before and after the earthquake of the school and allows the spirit of the children and their teachers to take center stage as they tell their story in Haitian Kreyòl.
The team behind Serenade for Haiti see a cultural parallel between Haiti and New Orleans. According to producer Christy McGill, “Haitian Kreyòl is not identical to the Creole of New Orleans, but it is similar. It is a hybrid language, a language of an enslaved people, and it's more than a spoken language. It’s a language of music.”
This connection between New Orleans and Haiti certainly doesn’t stop with linguistic parallels. Director Brown notes, “the Haitian Revolution was what led to the sale of Louisiana by Napoleon, who was diverting his army to Haiti in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the rebellion.” This history lesson reveals the tangible connection, although Brown and McGill believe the most meaningful shared history is that of two cities were ravaged by natural disasters--Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake in 2010 that devastated Haiti. Both rebuilt themselves by relying on an indestructible culture, culture rooted in and expressed through music. “Its hard to overstate the importance of music to Haitians. It's everywhere,” says McGill.
While telling the story of the Sainte Trinité Music School, Serenade for Haiti seeks to spotlight Haitian composers that have otherwise failed to see the widespread distribution that their counterparts from other countries do. The soundtrack is almost entirely the work of Haitian composers. “Some are dead, some alive, some are in Kentucky!” Brown says. That Haitian-Kentuckian connection is featured in the film.
Serenade for Haiti will be shown Saturday at 1:45 p.m. at the Broad Theater, and Monday at 5:45 pm at the Ace Hotel. Producer Christy McGill will attend both screenings and will welcome questions or discussion following the 70-minute film. Additionally, on Saturday producer, Anne Flatté, will be in attendance.