KENBE AYITI( hold Haiti)

This is the first letter in a series of many that I will write to inform and update you on our new project in Haiti. As you will see from this brief letter, we will need all the support we can get. I do not mean only financial support (although we are actively fund raising for the project). But as I will explain below, we are going to establish an elaborate system of professional mentoring and we will need as many volunteers as we can get …but I am getting ahead of myself. First,here are the facts:

Sanjeev Chatterjee, the Vice Dean of Miami University School of Communication (and the head of the Knight Center for International Media) and myself are back from a four day eye opening visit to Haiti. The trip is part of the effort of Tamouz Media and the Knight Center for International  Media to develop a cross platform media project that will bring the world to Haiti and the story of Haiti to the world. The project will become a substantial complement to the work already started on a voluntary basis at the University of Miami, School of Communication. The plan is to create a multilingual website that serves as a stepping stone for stories in the world media about Haiti to reach the Haitian population that is isolated by geography, lack of technological infrastructure and language. Kenbe Ayiti will be the project’s other focus: to enable young Haitian media makers and journalists to develop and distribute stories to media in Haiti while having the ability to reach a global audience. Our goal is to tell the story of Haiti as it has never been told before, through the eyes of young Haitian media makers empowered by training and a robust mentoring system. It is on this aspect of our work that I want to tell you about.

Only after visiting both Port Au Prince and the town of Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast did the full weight of what we had undertaken dawn on us. Nothing prepares you for the utter poverty and desperation of Port Au Prince. All public parks are now tent cities. There are tents everywhere, on streets, between collapsed and damaged buildings, on the sidewalk. But most distressing, at least for me, was the sense of resignation and shock  that I felt in the refugee camps and in so many other parts of the town. That sense of resignation stood out in such contrast to the bright, energetic and thoughtful young media makers we found in Port Au Prince and in

We engaged the students of Jacmel’s Cine Institute in a conversation inside a tent classroom near the Jacmel airstrip where Cine Institute has set up their temporary headquarters. (Their original building was destroyed). They were  eager to talk and there was no shortage of ideas, passion and a desire to be heard. They were asked what stories they would like to tell and their amazing list of potential stories and characters is too long to cite here.

Tele Mobil, a Port Au Prince  production company, has an imaginative program that produces   public service announcements and then screens them, as well as other films, every night in refugee camps throughout  the city. This is the only form of media that the refugees, without access to electricity, can consume. Tele Mobil’s  youthful staff is full of ideas and a desire to be trained to produce more complex stories and longer documentaries. The folks at Cecosida, a network of dozens of local journalists working on promoting and discussing Aid prevention, asked us to train them in multi media story telling techniques. We met the young new owner of a local Port Au Prince television station. He is a Miami University School of Communication alumnus who dreams of a schedule full of original programming, something that no television station in Haiti can achieve because of lack of funds. So it seemed to us that by helping and supporting these emerging media makers and by providing them with training and financial support, we will create riveting stories out of Haiti, stories that international audiences have never seen. We also will help to stimulate a whole movement of local media makers who, with their enthusiasm and energy, could become part of a social force that could play a crucial role in shaping Haiti’s future.

Our plan is to transform  both Tele Mobil and Cine Institute into active content creators in an ambitious cross platform project.  The third leg in the process will be to help a local television station to become the venue for distributing this content, as well as helping  to replace its schedule, (which primarily consists of cheap pirated entertainment), with the best of international  television  plus original locally produced content with a social message.

Thus Kenbe Ayiti’s dual goal  is to help young Haitians to produce powerful stories for  local and international media, as well as to create a distribution system inside Haiti that will consist of public screenings in refugee camps and remote communities, radio broadcasts, cell phone broadcasts as well as broadcasts by a flag ship television station and a network of small local stations.

We envision it as a multi year project. The core of the project’s first phase will be a web documentary series that will follow around 8 characters in Port Au Prince and Jacmel. The series will feature the personal stories of Haitians from all walks of life as they try to put their lives together after the devastating earthquake. The audience will be encouraged to dialogue via email and have chats with both the young media makers and the characters. They will be encouraged to get involved in the stories, suggest possible scenes that should be filmed etc.

The web series will become the first step in the creation of two long format films:

a) Long Form Documentary Film

A long form documentary that will evolve out of the material either by developing and expanding the filming of some of the characters or by documenting the entire process itself.

b) Dramatic Feature Film

The documentary part of the project will feed into a unique drama project where a script will be slowly developed out of improvisational drama workshops that will be conducted in the refugee camps. Aided by theater and film professionals from around the world, we will conduct a series of improvisational workshops with Haitian youth and adults in the refugee camps. The material from the workshops will be developed, with the help of a professional scriptwriter and his young student assistants, into a feature film script. The film that will be shot will use a cast of non-professional actors pulled from the drama workshops we have conducted. It will be directed by a well known filmmaker (to be chosen) aided by  the young students. Knowing first hand the inherit drama of the reality in Haiti today,  I believe that the film that will emerge out of this unique process will be  stunning in its emotive power, vision and its raw depiction of life in Haiti after the earthquake.

It will also attract attention to Haiti and  its nascent film industry.

We hope to launch the web series part of the project by early Fall. Our goal is to premiere the documentary and make it available for international broadcast by the end of  2011.

We want the feature film to be ready to be premiered in either the Berlin or Cannes film festival in early 2012. In the second year of the project we want to expand our distribution network, our “production hubs”, and our programming.

To achieve all of this, we intend to create a wide network of media professionals who will become our international partners. They will have a stake in the project and will provide a pool of mentor volunteers that will ensure that the fresh and riveting stories that will emerge out of the various workshops will be of the highest professional standards, so they can be broadcast internationally, as well as participate in major international  film festivals.

We are developing a very precise structure and schedule for the intensive first year of the project. I will describe it in my next letter, as well as our specific needs  for volunteer mentors. I will also describe what you can expect from your visit to Haiti, – a visit that I guarantee you will be transformational.

We need your support to make this project happen and succeed!  Together I believe we can create powerful stories that will replace the one dimensional imagery we currently watch on our television screens, introduce  new voices and visions to the international scene, and help young Haitians to reconstruct their country.

Looking forward to see you in Haiti.