The Cine Institute in Jacmel, Haiti offers students a free filmmaking course

Course designed to help students set up businesses after graduation and give their country more of a voice

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 October, 2015, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 November, 2015, 6:47pm

Films can make a difference. At the Ciné Institute in Jacmel, Haiti, students who meet the entrance requirements can attend a full-time, two-year filmmaking course for free.

The idea behind this philanthropic approach is that the graduates will go on to use their new skills to set up businesses on Haiti and build a sustainable audiovisual industry. It’s a way of generating employment in the country, which is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2010.

“Our goal is to build and support a local film industry in Haiti,” says Kathryn Everett, chief operating office of Artists for Peace and Justice, the New York-based organisation which represents the Institute abroad.

“We work hard to get the films we make shown inside the country, and to help out students get jobs when they’ve finished their studies. We’re trying to develop the students’ talents and train them to do business.”

The Institute, which grew out of the Jacmel Film Festival, opened in 2009. The earthquake struck a year later. “The school had about 30 students when the earthquake hit,” Everett explains. “We were, of course, directly affected. We were very worried about one of our students, who went missing for two weeks.”

The students helped with the relief effort, but also noticed how their training could come in useful. “They realised they had the skills to report what was going on in Haiti after the earthquake,” says Everett. “It made everyone work harder and become more sensitive towards their own country. The earthquake engendered a love and pride in Haiti.”

That love also spread internationally, via organisations like Artists for Peace and Justice, and Haiti Optimiste, which promotes new cinema from the country.

Bwè Kafe, a café in Hoboken, a town that faces New York across the Hudson River, was founded to support the relief effort in Haiti – bwè kafe means “to drink coffee” in Hiatian Creole. As part of its efforts, the café hosts well-attended screenings of films made by the Institute’s students.

Dale Ryan, who runs the café with her brother Evan, mother Maryanne Fike and husband Tatsuaki Mori, says the screenings help give viewers a truer picture of what’s going on in the country.

“One of the main aims of our café is to provide a different perspective on Haiti,” says Ryan. “When we hear about it, we tend to hear whatever makes the news, and unfortunately it is all too often focused on devastation, poverty and corruption. It’s not to say that these aren’t real issues but it’s not the whole picture.”

Ryan heard about the Ciné Institute from a film director friend while visiting Jacmel. “He was a volunteer teacher there. He really piqued our interest. When we got home, we noticed that there were some screenings of the students’ work in New York. The films were incredible, and students even more so. We knew we wanted to share their work at our coffee shop.”

That has translated into screenings every summer. “Since then, we have developed a beautiful relationship with the Ciné Institute. We share the same mission of valuing the arts, a belief of self-empowerment through education, and a desire to show the world a more inspiring vision of Haiti,” says Ryan.

Adds Mori: “The Institute does seem to have a positive effect on the students’ lives.”

Students at the Institute come from a variety of backgrounds, and teachers are local and international, the latter being drawn mainly from francophone Quebec and Montreal in Canada.

“We have two students who grew up pretending to make films using cardboard boxes as cameras. They always wanted to do make movies. We call them the Coen brothers,” says Everett.

“Other students heard about the school on the radio, and some didn’t believe that it actually existed at first. We have photographers who want to learn how to tell their stories using moving images, and we get students who want to learn about the technical aspects of filmmaking,” adds Everett.

The school is free, but students have to commit to the whole course. “It’s full-time, so they can’t work while they’re attending the school. They have to discuss it with their families first,” Everett says.

Although she admits that the school provides an incredible opportunity for the students, Everett stops short of saying that it gives them a voice. “The already have a voice,” she notes. “The Institute just gives them the power to use it.”