Leni Riefenstahl goes to Haiti
May 10, 2007
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When is the last time you saw a documentary with a soft-core love scene? The Ghosts of Cite Soleil makes this, with French "relief worker" Lele — working in an AIDS prevention program. Meanwhile, at the end of the feature, we find out that Bily's wife is HIV positive.
photo courtesy of Ghosts of Cite Soleil [2006 promotion]

Leni Riefenstahl goes to Haiti

The director is Danish, not German, but Ghosts of Cite Soleil makes heroes of the made-in-Washington leaders of Haiti’s 2004 coup in a manner reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s adoration for Adolf Hitler in her famous film from the 1930’s, Triumph of the Will. It builds a web of lies - lies of omission and lies of commission - into the “Big Lie” - a stylized, decontextualized, post-modern, sexy/violent piece of propaganda disguised as a documentary, full of guns but signifying nothing.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil claims to reveal the intimate personal lives of two gangsters who are brothers, Bily and 2Pac, in the deprived Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. When introducing them to several foreign journalists, filmmaker Kevin Pina (Harvest of Hope, Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits) made the following comment, "Billy and I had a falling out over the question of his accepting money from foreign journalists to hype this question of Aristide and gangsters. The more they paid the more outlandish became his claims . . .”

The director, Asger Leth, would have us believe the majority of people of Cite Soleil don’t support President Aristide, and that those who do are forced to do so by armed gangsters. He ignores the fact that Aristide was twice elected by huge majorities in country-wide elections, and that massive pro-Aristide demonstrations have taken place in Cite Soliel repeatedly since the coup. In one scene, a Cite Soleil crowd shouts, “Five full years, Five full years.” Leth translates, but does not explain the significance - the people want Aristide back to finish his full five-year term.

The film doesn't tell us that “Opposition leaders” Andy Apaid and Charles Henry Baker are also sweatshop owners who hate Aristide because he wanted to raise the minimum wage and make them pay taxes, which the rich don’t do in Haiti.

We’re told President Aristide left voluntarily - no mention of his kidnapping by the U.S. military and his ongoing banishment from the continent. We see jubilant crowds of Aristide opponents waving as the coup makers drive into town, giving the impression most Haitians supported the coup. We don’t see the U.S./French/Canadian soldiers guarding the route and making the entrance possible. We don’t learn that Port-au-Prince was totally defended the day of Aristide’s kidnapping, and the coup leaders would never have been able to take it over militarily. Instead Uncle Sam came to the rescue.

We’re not told that Louis Jodel Chamblain worked with the Duvalier dictatorship’s brutal militia — the Tonton Macoutes — in the 1980s; that following a military coup against Aristide in 1991, he was the “operations guy” for the FRAPH paramilitary death squad, accused of murdering uncounted numbers of Aristide supporters and introducing gang rape into Haiti as a military weapon.

We’re not told that Guy Phillipe is a former Haitian police chief who was trained by US Special Forces in Ecuador in the early 1990s, or that the U.S. embassy admitted that Phillipe was involved in the transhipment of narcotics, one of the key sources of funds for paramilitary attacks on the poor in Haiti. He says the man he most admires is former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Leth portrays both of these men as credible spokespersons, not gangsters.

Where did the weapons of the coup-makers come from? Who organized and trained them? Who spent tens of millions of dollars to create an “opposition movement” in Haiti? The United States is the real ghost in this film - it simply does not exist, except for its official version of events, scripted by George W. Bush, which Ghosts of Cite Soleil follows scrupulously.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil plays like a manipulative music video, featuring music by Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean, also the executive producer, who supported the coup and pushed the State Department line among the conscious hip-hop community and progressive celebrities in Hollywood. This contrasts to the principled stand of Danny Glover, Ruby Dee and her late, great husband Ossie Davis. You can almost hear the violins behind Chamblain, as he talks about his return to Haiti, but the music becomes dissonant and menacing behind Aristide or behind 2Pac and Bily, who speak English no less, but we never learn why. Like we never learn who, or why about anything in this movie, a piece of soft core propaganda, cleverly, consciously, and seductively made. Candy may be sweet, but it rots your teeth.

by Charlie Hinton
Haiti Action Committee