A year’s worth of agony, hope, courage in one-hour documentary

01/09/2011 12:36 PM

01/09/2011 7:47 PM

It wasn’t long before the words started to appear, crudely spray-painted on the remnants of buildings in Port-au-Prince: Nou Bouke it read in Creole. We’re tired.

The graffiti was a succinct assessment of the mood in a country whose 200-year history has been marked by strife. For a people who have faced hardship with hope and tragedy with faith, the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti was too much to bear.

“The mood was so dense that there was no way you couldn’t feel it,” said Nancy San Martin, a Herald interactive editor. “It was quiet, somber and thick.”

This Tuesday, on the eve of the first-year commemoration of the earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000, The Miami Herald will have a premiere screening of Nou Bouke: Haiti’s Past, Present and Future, a one-hour documentary that is a collaboration between The Herald, El Nuevo Herald, award-winning filmmaker Joe Cardona and WPBT Channel 2, one of South Florida’s PBS affiliates.

It’s a novel project for us, a year-long effort to try and put the events in Haiti into historical perspective, following the personal stories of Haitians as the country tries to recover from the worst natural disaster in the Western Hemisphere.

Former Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal conceived of the idea after viewing the first videos from Haiti just days after the earthquake.

“The magnitude of this catastrophe really required coverage beyond traditional news stories from the field, ” said San Martin, who served as the film’s executive producer. She spent the last year working on the project with El Nuevo videographer Jose Iglesias and Miami Herald Haiti Bureau Chief Jacqueline Charles. They are newspaper veterans who, with the collaboration of colleagues from both newsrooms, used their skills to develop a film under the guidance of the experienced Miami documentarian Cardona.

Originally trained as a still photographer, Iglesias said the sights and sounds of the footage “added a totally different dimension to the story-telling.”

It is a difficult tale to document.

“What I was looking at, I really didn’t want to see,” said Iglesias, who made eight trips to Haiti last year, staying as long as three weeks at a time. While in Haiti he’d often turn on his iPod and plug in his headphones to drown out the real life soundtrack of crying, agony, fear and prayers.

“I wanted to shut down one of my senses,” Iglesias said. “I couldn’t close my eyes. The only one of my senses I could dull was my hearing.”

The documentary is part of our coverage as we mark one year since the earthquake. On today’s front page, we begin a three-day series examining progress in Haiti. It has been slow, and is difficult to measure, now stymied further by a political stalemate. Much remains to be done.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louise, speaking in the documentary, provides perhaps the most fitting analysis of the Haitian spirit.

“I cannot lose hope but I’m very realistic about the situation,” she said. “And I’m also a Sisyphian, in the sense that, you know that myth? Sisyphus takes his rock all the way up to the mountain and when he gets up there, after having pushed so hard, the rock goes down. And he climbs down, takes his energy and pushes back again. I think Haitians are Sisyphian.”

Nou Bouke: Haiti’s Past, Present and Future, will be presented in a free screening on Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 260 NE 59th. Ter. For more information visit MiamiHerald.com/Haiti.

The documentary also will air across 70 percent of PBS markets nationally. In Miami, it will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WPBT2 with an encore presentation Thursday at 8 p.m.

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