Movie Magazine International

Racines Noir Film Festival, Paris, April 4-18, 2000

Special Report By Moira Sullivan

With over 400 screenings a week to choose from, there are lot of films to see in Paris with almost every imaginable kind of film festival. 'Racines Noir' or the 'Black Roots Film festival' was held in conjunction with RFI FM Radio, France and the City of Paris during the 4th to 18th of April. Over 50 films celebrated Haiti, the first black republic of the world with retrospectives by work of Haitian directors such as Raoul Peck and Elsie Haas. Also included were examples of independent Afro-American cinema and films of the African diaspora in Haiti, Brazil and Cuba. Film coordinator Catherine Ruelle , regular programmer for RFI , arranged this brilliant pageant.

A special 'Nuit Vaudou' or 'Voodoo Night' was a feature of the festival with films on the religion of the spirits which originated in West Africa and was transmitted through the imported slaves to the New World.Special guest was renowned Haitian anthropologist LaŽnnec Hurbon who has written extensively about Voodoo.

Without a doubt, Maya Derenís classic film footage assembled after her death by her husband and his second wife Teiji and Cherel Ito 'Divine Horsemen, The Living Gods of Haiti' is considered a classic for its richness in conveying rituals in honor to African spirits. Deren wanted to do a creative film rather than a documentary and it shows, with a range of beautiful slow motion shots of people and objects in motion. I was invited to present the film and can testify that 'Formidable' and 'extraordinaire' were frequent words of praise given to Derenís film forty years after its completion.

Documentaries by French director Charles Najman were notable. 'The Illuminations of Mademoiselle Nerval' is a homage to a celebrated Haitian mambo or priestess and her practical advice and spiritual practice to her devotees in a Haitian temple. Najmanís 'Zombie' explores the reality and mythical significance of the 'living dead', which the filmmaker calls a mirror of Haitian society. Hollywood has historically promoted the subject, such as Jacques Torneurís 1943 classic, shown at the festival 'I Walked with a Zombie' and 'The White Zombie' featuring Bela Lagosi-- clips of which are included in Najmanís documentary. Incidentally, both, Derenís film and these kinds of Hollywood films are typically found in the horror sections of video outlets.

'Daughters of the Dust' by Julia Dash from 1991 was also featured at the festival which is an account of three generations of women in a northern USA black family. Dash criticizes the trend by Hollywood studios of making so called 'independent filmsí with budgets of up to 36 million dollars. Consequently, she argues, real filmmakers with low budgets have difficulties in finding general theatrical distribution. She also criticized Hollywood in pursuit of 'black exoticaí for enticing young filmmakers to make stale remakes of earlier 'blaxploitationí films.

The Haitian film festival brilliantly revealed the reality and complexity of an area of world cinema that extends the horizons of vision. Maya Derenís and Julia Dashís films are available on video in the US. Charles Najmanís films are available through Canal Plus in France.

This is Moira Sullivan from Movie Magazine International, Paris, France.

© 2000 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 5/00

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