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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Ghosts of Cite Soleil
Directed by Asger Leth
Image/THINKFilm 06/07 DVD/VHS Documentary
In the director's note, Asger Leth, a Danish filmmaker, writes: "Haiti is a two-hour flight from Miami. The United Nations calls Haiti a 'silent emergency,' noting its vital statistics rival those of sub-Saharan Africa. Haiti has the third-highest rate of hunger in the world, behind only Somalia and Afghanistan. Its people have less access to clean water and sanitation than residents of Ethiopia or Sierra Leone. Its malnutrition rate is higher than Angola's, and life expectancy is lower in Haiti than in Sudan. A greater percentage of Haitians live in poverty than citizens of the war-ravaged Congo. By every measure, Haiti's eight million inhabitants are living in a state of prolonged and profound horror."
For this hard-hitting and daring documentary, Leth spends several months during 2004 with 2pac and Bily, two brothers who live in Cite Soleil, a slum of Port au Prince where 500,000 people exist in what the United Nations has called "the most dangerous place on Earth." 2pac is a handsome young man who sees himself both as a gangster and as a gifted rapper. Bily has political ambitions but has not been able to realize them. Both are in the service of President Aristide who uses gang leaders to put down the opposition. The comrades loyal to 2pac and Bily are heavily armed and wherever they go, they strike fear into the hearts of everyone they meet.
The privileged existence of these slum enforcers comes to a halt when Aristide flees Haiti under the cover of night and UN and American troops arrive to try and restore order in the city. On Disarmament Day, 2pac and Bily reluctantly give up their guns to the police. Of course, they fear reprisal from those who hated Aristide and all those connected to him. Bily is taken to prison, and 2pac must rely on the help of Lele, a French relief worker who is one of his lovers, to get out of the city.
One of the most distressing things about poverty and violence is that they stifle the human spirit and cover the soul with an armor of self-disgust, fear, anger, and hatred. These two young gang leaders love the power that comes with guns and have little respect for anything else. Not even their blood connection means much; 2pac and Bily distrust each other and each admits he might kill the other. Ghosts of Cite Soleil is a scary documentary that explores the savage and sad lives of these two young men and all those who suffer with them in a slum that is truly a hell on earth.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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