The world of independent cinema has long been used as a weapon of representation, helping filmmakers give a voice to communities that have historically been overlooked by popular culture. Cinema not only gives life to characters from marginalized communities but also portrays their unique struggles to the rest of the world. The purview of cinema is diverse and multifaceted, and independent filmmakers have used it for various reasons, including Haitian-American filmmaker Jacquil Constant, whose documentary about Haiti’s art landscape came as a breakthrough for Haitian artists residing in and outside the country.
Constant’s 2022 documentary, Haiti is a Nation of Artists, is a paramount representation of the Caribbean nation’s culture and art and the looming difficulties that have curbed the propagation of such art. Depicting the humanity of Haiti and the diversity of its art scene, the documentary explores the themes of misrepresentation of Haiti in Western media, the underrepresentation of its artists, and exploring ways through which the Haitian diaspora can help the country’s artists make their art financially rewarding.
The 50-minute documentary focuses on the development and transformation of Haitian art following a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010 that led to approximately 2,00,000 deaths. Constant has described the omnipresence of art in Haiti as the reason for the existence of the film. “When you go to Haiti, art is everywhere, from the airport to the tap taps, which are like our taxis, to galleries and cultural institutions,” he said during a screening of his film in late 2022.
Through Haiti is a Nation of Artists and his efforts to spotlight the transformational state of Haitian art following the 2010 earthquake, Constant’s cinematic venture represents the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Reduced Inequalities and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. The documentary actively deconstructs the unfair representation of Haitian artists in Western media and the lack of resources and infrastructure for them to fully explore and make their creative endeavours profitable.
Constant’s film shows a unique and exhilarating side of Haiti—a side that differs from mainstream media narratives of the nation and delves into its deeply present creative landscape. “I just want to show a different image of Haiti, and that was the reason I intentionally called it ‘Haiti Is a Nation of Artists.’ Usually, when people think of Haiti, they think of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere,” Constant said at a 2022 screening of the documentary, emphasizing that his goal is to portray the country’s strikingly overshadowed side.
“But I wanted to show we have a “rich cultural district of the arts, and it’s been over 200 years of liberation, and it’s just a different culture,” he added.
Constant has also devoted much of his time to promoting Haitian filmmaking, founding the Haiti International Film Festival (HIFF) in Southern California in 2015. The festival focuses on portraying the thriving humanity of Haitian culture by curating notable short films, documentaries, and feature films from the Haitian diaspora. The festival’s website describes its goal to be informative, reaching “diverse audiences about the rich culture of the Haitian Diaspora through innovative cinema.”
In an interview with VoyageLA, Constant said that the lack of diversity in mainstream film festivals led him to establish HIFF. “To ensure that filmmakers of colour have the cultural infrastructure to showcase and promote their work, I established a nonprofit and Los Angeles’ only Haitian International Film Festival. Our mission is to showcase a positive narrative of Haitian culture through film and art,” he said.
Constant also emphasized the importance of each film’s agency and their ability to empower the Haitian diaspora as primary parameters considered for screening at the festival. While talking to Nigeria’s Nollywood Reporter, Constant said that he wants - and dreams - for Haitians to have economic control of their art.
“I want the artists and filmmakers to benefit from it. That’s why I educate them on the business side and to not put their whole work out on Youtube for free,” he said. Envisioning the future of Haitian cinema, he said that he sees it being “the most dominant in the Caribbean region and reaching out to the African diaspora.”