Documenting Haiti

Like most people, my attention in recent days has been directed toward the earthquakes in Haiti and their aftermath: the rescue efforts, the struggles to survive, and the discussions of how to rebuild.  But although I find myself following the story attentively, I have been unable to shake my frustration with the exploitative coverage seen on U.S. television, both on national and cable news stations, and the lack of historical context offered in many of the stories we get.  Much of this has to do with the “liveness” of the story, the fact that the crisis is unfolding in real time, but as Melissa Click points out, once the initial crisis wears off, it is questionable whether the news media will continue to cover the story and provide vital historical background that could provide better information about the country’s political and economic history, details that are essential in garnering support for providing foreign aid.

With that in mind, I found Andrew O’Hehir’s discussion of Haiti’s Ciné Institute in Salon to be especially interesting. Ciné Institute is Haiti’s only existing film school, and although most of the school’s buildings were destroyed, the students have been filming virtually around the clock to help make people aware of the conditions in that country.  Their videos are anthologized on their Vimeo channel, creating what might be described as a “distributed documentary” about the earthquake, and although many of them are available only in the country’s native language, others include subtitles and other forms of English translation.

O’Hehir’s article is especially interesting in that he reports that the school seeks to “encourage the development of an indigenous and distinctive brand of Haitian cinema,” a task linked to the school’s attempts to avoid focusing merely on the “poverty and chaos,” but instead to focus on the nation’s resiliency.  As Haiti’s rebuilding efforts continue, we will need more stories and more institutions like these to keep the spotlight focused on the country, even after the aftershocks have subsided.

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