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The documentary « The Forgotten Occupation: Jim Crow Goes to Haiti » takes top honors in Brooklyn


Produced by Haitian-American director Alain Martin, the powerful documentary « The Forgotten Occupation: Jim Crow Goes to Haiti » wins two prestigious awards at the 2023 Brooklyn Art Film Festival

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In a resounding victory at the prestigious 2023 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, the captivating documentary « The Forgotten Occupation: Jim Crow Goes to Haiti » has emerged as a tour de force, securing both the Outstanding Feature Documentary award on June 11 and the Audience Choice award on June 12.

« Bang! Occupation oubliée has won the Best Documentary! Out, strong children!! » exclaimed Alain Martin on Facebook on June 11, 2023.

Produced by Haitian American filmmaker Alain Martin, « The Forgotten Occupation” takes viewers on a mesmerizing journey into the turbulent period when the United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. It unveils a hidden tale of imperialism, racism, resistance, and resilience. By skillfully weaving together interviews, archival footage, and expert analysis, the film sheds light on this forgotten chapter, and serves as a vital reminder of the enduring power of documentary filmmaking to educate and inspire.

In an exclusive interview with AyiboPost on June 12, Martin recalls that history fascinated him and how it shapes and influences the present. While studying filmmaking in the early 2000s at Rutgers University, he took an elective course about Haiti and learned about the US Occupation. He explained that Dr. Joan Cunningham, who taught the class, suggested he make a movie on this subject matter.

AyiboPost has been granted exclusive access to the synopsis and the documentary.

The films begins with Filmmaker Alain Martin reading a letter to his deceased grandfather where he recalls a morose conversation between the man and another family member in which they bemoan the chronic troubles of their country, Haiti. The missive continued to mention their wish for American intervention, seeing it as the only solution for their ravaged nation.

One of the documentary’s remarkable achievements lies in its ability to bring a largely overlooked aspect of history to the forefront. While many are familiar with the Jim Crow era in the United States, the film exposes the rarely discussed extension of racial segregation policies onto the shores of Haiti. By juxtaposing the ideals of democracy and equality professed by the United States with the reality of their actions in Haiti, « The Forgotten Occupation » poses vital questions about the contradictions and lasting impacts of imperialism. The documentary also highlights the wealth of Haiti stolen by the U.S. during the occupation, and the indemnity paid to France by Haiti for its independence.

The masterful storytelling employed by Alain Martin features, among others: Haitian historian Myrtha Gilbert, activist Hans Roy, longtime pro-democracy activist Patrick Elie, author Edwidge Danticat, broadcaster Fritz Valesco, American historian Hans Schmidt, CEO of Le Nouvelliste, Max Chauvet, novelist Maurice Cadet, and geographer and doctor of history, Georges Eddy-Lucien.

Through a combination of personal narratives, historical accounts, and expert analysis, Martin crafts a compelling narrative that captivates and educates audiences. By giving voice to those directly affected by the occupation and incorporating diverse perspectives, the film fosters empathy and encourages a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding this forgotten chapter in history.

The idea to make this documentary came back to Martin on the heels of a failed fiction-based venture back in 2008.

Shooting was on and off between 2010 and 2011. “We did not have too much money, » Martin explains. And it is with his little brother’s help that Martin landed the first interview for the project with Hans Smith – a historian and first person known to write about the US occupation of Haiti.

To realize this documentary, Martin surrounded himself with a small and effective crew composed of Haitian and French-American producer Hans Gustave, American consultant James Timothy Doran, American-Vietnamese Director of Photography Adele Free Pham, post-production Supervisor Brian Heano, camera Operator Yvon Vilius, and film Editor Christelle Powell.

Martin also got help from one of the members of the Haitian Studies Association, Patrick Bellagarde Smith: Grandson of Dantes Bellegard Smith, one of Haiti’s leading social philosophers. He helped him gather the names of notable people to interview in Haiti and the US in the first phase of the documentary in 2014.

The following year, Martin returned to the US where he and his team raised $25,000. This money funded a first rendition of an unsatisfactory version of the documentary. He decided to learn more about documentaries and went ahead with another shooting in 2017.

Martin raised $80,000 from friends, family, and people in the film industry to realize the documentary. He says not having a budget was his biggest mistake.

Lack of experience, funding, and artistic vision, not having an undefined budget, and an armed attack against the crew in Cité while filming were his biggest challenges.

« The Forgotten Occupation » proved to be a transformative experience for audiences at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, striking a chord with viewers eager to delve into a history often overshadowed by other narratives. The documentary’s ability to elicit an emotional response while delivering an essential educational message has resonated deeply, inspiring conversations, reflections, and calls to action.

The Outstanding Feature Documentary award and the Audience Choice award bestowed to the work are testament to the film’s exceptional quality and powerful impact. The accolades acknowledge the outstanding efforts of the entire production team, from the visionary direction of Lisa Johnson to the meticulous research, cinematography, and editing that brought the documentary to life.

Beyond its festival success, « The Forgotten Occupation » holds the potential to ignite a broader dialogue about imperialism, racism, and the consequences of historical actions. As the film reaches wider audiences through subsequent screenings and distribution, it can educate, challenge preconceptions, and motivate individuals to engage with forgotten histories.

You can read more about « The Forgotten Occupation » on AyiboPost.

Martin intends to screen the movie to universities, schools, and the Haitian people around the world. For Haiti, he wants to translate it into Creole first before showing the movie to the Haitian people, and he wants to do something special for them.

He recalls watching the US invasion in Grenada in his youth, seeing US soldiers bomb this country created fear in him.

Martin considers himself an independent filmmaker. It took him at least 12 years to complete this film. “Much remains to be said about the American Occupation in Haiti”, he offers.

“My purpose is to preserve the memory. I just want people to be aware of the US occupation. It is a sort of Holocaust on the Haitian people. We never commemorate those who fought, and never held the US accountable. Now some of us are asking them to come back again.”

Born in Port-au-Prince and raised in Jacmel, New York, and New Jersey, Alain Martin is a producer, writer, and director. He is also known for Miracle on 74th Street (2023), and Una Carta a Mis Hijas (2023).

By Jolette Joseph

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