Aspiring Haitian filmmakers are learning their craft free of charge thanks to Ciné Institute, a Jacmel-based school founded in 2008 by American filmmaker David Belle. The nonprofit school has created a two-year university curriculum that includes courses in English and computer literacy, as well as a complete film education, from cinematography to editing and multimedia content.
In a country where just 1 percent of the population can afford to attend university, the institute is intended to be a major incubator for Haiti’s film industry. “We [want] to give Haiti a voice—its own voice—in cinema,” says Paula Hyppolite, co-director of the school.
Ciné Institute traces its roots to the Festival Film Jakmèl, an international film festival that provided free screenings of foreign films to tens of thousands of Haitians. Today the institute gives young Haitians the skills to share their own stories with the world. The work of students and graduates is already being shown internationally, from classrooms in New Jersey to festivals in Sarajevo and Amsterdam.
Tragedy provided a chance to apply Ciné Institute skills closer to home. The school was destroyed in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, but students dug their cameras out of the rubble and started shooting scenes of the rescue effort and ensuing recovery, while also helping deliver aid and supplies to their communities. According to Hyppolite, their efforts not only helped relay the extent of the devastation to international audiences, but also helped students themselves overcome the sense of loss created by the earthquake.
Footage by the students is now being used for documentaries about Haiti’s story, including Haiti Rebuilds: A Journey of Hope, recently screened at Columbia University.