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In the slum of Cité Soleil, President Aristide's most loyal supporters were ruling as kings. The five major gang leaders were controlling heavily armed young men; the Chiméres. The Secret army of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "Ghosts of Cité Soleil" is a film about Billy and Haitian 2pac. Two brothers. Gang Leaders of the Chiméres. Written by
According to the U.N., the most dangerous place on earth is a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti known as Cite Soleil, an area of unimaginable poverty ruled over by armed gangs dubbed by the locals "Chimeres," which, loosely translated, means "ghosts." For the most part, these Chimeres have been active supporters of the Aristide government, which, in turn, has often paid them to intimidate and do violence against anyone who might have the temerity to dissent from the official party line (though the government has long denied doing so).
The documentary "Ghosts of Cite Soleil" focuses on two brothers - one who goes by the name Haitian 2Pac and the other Bily - who, at the time the movie was filmed, made up two of the five major chieftains who ruled the area. 2Pac, who describes himself on camera as a gangster/rapper and as "pure Mafia," nevertheless sees himself as a defender of the downtrodden who have been largely abandoned by the higher-ups and powerbrokers in his country. Thus, his devotion to the Aristide government is seen as tenuous and conditional at best. His younger brother, Bily, however, would appear to have political aspirations of his own, so he is more overtly loyal to the corrupt leader.
The movie was shot mainly in February 2004, which, as fortune would have it, was also the precise moment when Aristide was forcibly removed from office by groups of armed rebels, many of them former soldiers of the army that Aristide himself had earlier disbanded. Thus, the latter portion of the movie takes place in the not-much-more-stable post-Aristide era.
It's hard to imagine a more despairing film than "Ghosts of Cite Soleil," as even 2Pac himself states right up front that in this impoverished hellhole "you never live long, you always die young." Given such an assessment, is there even the faintest glimmer of hope to brighten the lives of the people who live there? Well, there's Lele, a compassionate French relief worker who devotes her life to providing medical assistance and emotional comfort to these citizens trapped in unremitting poverty and endless cycles of violence - and even helps to broker peace among some of the rival chieftains at a crucial moment. But that moment is an ephemeral and fleeting one, as the status quo of violence, hopelessness and mutual distrust is quickly reestablished there once the crisis is over.
If the movie makes one thing clear, it is that the situation in Haiti is hopelessly complex and entangled, with acts of violence coming from all sides in the daily struggle for survival and in the endless jockeying for power that takes place there. Even the brothers can't figure out if they're really allies or enemies of one another. And always, always, grinding the people down and preventing them from making a better life for themselves, there is the poverty - the debilitating, soul-crushing and inexorable poverty that rules their lives.
Congratulations to director Asger Leth and cameramen Milos Loncarevic and Frederick Jacobi for their personal courage in being willing to thrust themselves into a situation so fraught with volatility and danger. For there is rarely a moment in the movie when guns are not cocked and at the ready - and tempers not flaring. In fact, there are times when you have to remind yourself that what you're watching is not a staged docudrama but a real-time documentary - so close do the filmmakers get to actual violence.
This is definitely a must-see documentary - but prepare yourself for heartbreak.
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