The African Film Festival is currently borough hopping in New York, displaying some of the most remarkable movies and short films related to the African diaspora.
“Stones in the Sun,” a film by Haitian-American filmmaker Patricia Benoit, captures the essence of a reality not frequently shared on camera.
Inspired by her own family’s exile from Haiti, Benoit’s film takes place in the 1980s, revisiting the country during a nationwide uprising against then President (or dictator) Jean-Claude Duvalier. Known for his brutal militaristic tactics, under his authority, many Haitians were killed, tortured and fled the country looking for a safe-haven.
Three Haitian families all dealing with the same reality in various ways flee the country to land in New York, where they attempt to pick up the pieces.
While all three had varying experiences, from rape and murder, to displacement and shame, they all unite on the same issue and that’s struggle.
During Q&A, Benoit regarded the film as another side of the Haitian story.
“One thing that irritates me is that when people talk about Haiti, they talk about the resistance,” she said. “But people forget that there is damage. There is damage and in order to survive, people hide the wounds and they push them down.”
Indeed her point was well taken. Each of the characters dealing with their connection to the suffering was haunted by the past, by the demons that crumbled their worlds.
In the film, sisters “Yannick” and “Micheline,” though raised in the same era, in the same household in Haiti, are worlds apart. Yannick, educated and given opportunity, stays in Haiti as a teacher to empower youth and enliven revolution. She witnesses a murder and flees to America to stay with her sister who has become the all-American woman, living in the suburbs in a nice house with the proverbial white picket fence.
Unable to cope with the reality of her homeland, the suffering of others and her horrific past, Micheline clashes with her sister who begins to rock her perfect world.
“Gerald” the son of an infamous military oppressor builds a new life in America, changes his name and fights over the airwaves with a revolutionary radio show, speaking of uprising and overthrowing the military. He marries a white woman, “Rebecca” who is completely unconscious of her husband’s internal battles. His father, deathly ill, escapes Haiti and comes to his doorstep. “Gerald” is forced to somehow reconcile his past with his present while continue to stand firm on his beliefs.
Though some could speculate that Gerald’s marrying “Rebecca” was in sort his way of disconnecting himself with the identity, the bloodline that bonded him with his father, Benoit explained that wasn’t her purpose at all.
“Why is she a white-American woman?” she repeated an audience member’s question. “Originally she had a larger arc that I simplified, which was sort of essential to that. But it also was a coming to a new community. You could say, ‘Oh, he’s running away from his roots.’ That’s not how I meant it. But I wanted to have this sort of naïveté, an American naïveté, which I have encountered. It’s that if you’re nice, you’re good. If you’re nice, you’re not necessarily good.
“It was also stones in the sun, the title. Usually in Haiti I think it really shows the depth of the saying. That a lot of these proverbs are really deep. I was taking it on a level of suffering: A lot of people are here and well meaning, but they really don’t understand what people in Haiti have gone through. And even in our personal lives, if somebody is really suffer, it is hard to really understand or really known the depth of their suffering,” Benoit said.
“Vita” a spirit-broken Haitian woman manages to escape the country, but is unable to detach herself from the barbarity of rape. She reunites with her husband but is unable to cope without spells of hatred and fear welling up in her soul to manifest in violent, confusing outbursts The film made its debut last year and was also seen at the Tribeca Film Festival.All in all, the story line was an amazing insight on the daily struggles of really any person escaping their reality. It allows the audience to not only understand the primary message about Haitian suffering, but the secondary layer of personal endurance and dueling realities.
Check out the trailer here.