Arnold Antonin is one of Haiti’s most famous filmmakers. He is known for fiction films, but he’s even more well-known for his documentaries. What’s more, he’s one of the most crowned personalities in the industry in Haiti. His film Le President a-t-il Le Sida[Could the President Have AIDS?] won a special award in the mid-2000s at Burkina Faso for its contribution in the fight against AIDS. He also repeated that feat that same time at Montreal’s Vues d’Afrique Film festival. In 2000, Antonin received the Djibril Diop Mambety award at Cannes Festival for achievements over the course of his career.
Antonin’s documentary are on the educative side. His subjects are usually literary and intellectual figures from Haiti’s history. His documentary Six femmes d’exception [Six Exceptional Women], for example, chronicles the lives of six Haitian women who’ve made their mark in Haitian society, including an educator Odette Roy Fombrun, singer Emerante de Pradines, and novelist Paulette Poujol Oriol. Haiti’s rich literary heritage was also explored by Antonin in Jacques Roumain, La Passion d’un Pays [Jacques Roumain, the Passion of a Country].
The Antonin film catalog is quite versatile. There are documentaries on painters like Tiga and Prefète Duffaut. There is even a comedy film Piwouli le Zenglendo[Piwouli and the Thug], the title character being a retired military henchman whose wife falls in love with the thief who carjacks her at gunpoint.
Born in Port-au-Prince in 1942, Antonin begun his career with documentaries about free speech and repression during the Duvalier era in Haiti. He’s contended in past interviews that some of these documentaries like Haiti: Le Chemin de la Liberté [Haiti: the Road to Liberty] and Un Tonton Macoute Peut-il Devenir Un Poet [Can a Tonton Macoute be a Poet] were hard-hitting at the time of their release—hard-hitting enough to earn him an exile in the 1970s to Venezuela. A past president of the Haiti-based Haitian Filmmakers Association, Antonin also runs the Centre Pétion-Bolivar in Port-au-Prince, a cultural center.
Q & A
How is the Haitian movies industry doing from what you’ve been able to see?
Haitian cinema is pretty much like the cinema in some poor countries in Africa. There’s a lot of issues. Piracy. Political insecurity. A lack of imagination has hit it really hard.
You made a documentary about the architect and sculptor Albert Mangonès. What can you tell us about it?
Even as we speak, this film continues to have a great deal of success. At the center of it is the theme of the relations of an artist with political forces. Mangonès was nephew to Oswald Durand [a poet] and a cousin to Jacques Roumain—there’s no greater Haitians than they were.
Out of all the cinematic projects you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
The project I love the most is always the last one I did. It’s like when you have a bunch of kids. The baby is always the one you spoil the most.
What counsel would you give to someone who’s interested in getting into filmmaking?
Firstly, for them not to be intimidated by filmmaking nowadays with all the sophisticated cameras that’s out there. But at the same time, they have to take filmmaking seriously, because it’s a really powerful weapon that can do a lot of good, just like it can do a lot of harm. For one not to be the mediocre type, one has to study the craft a lot, watch great films, and read good literature, Haitian literature and international literature.
What would you like to say about Haiti that most people do not know about it?
Don’t look at Haiti through cliched eyes, or a condescending way.
What actors and actresses would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Ricardo Lefèvre, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Reginald Lubin, Manfred Marcelin, Gessica Géneus, Caroline Pierre, Riché Kenskoff. But in actuality, all actors have become like family, and they’re so talented that I’d love to work with them all. Don’t forget about my gedes tout—Brunache Zephir, Youyou, Melqui—everyone everywhere admires them.
What projects are you working on for the time being?
I’m working on several projects at a time, but I don’t like talking about him before they’re complete.