Theater / Film

Oolite Arts’ filmmakers focus lens on Little Haiti, social justice issues

Written By Jonel Juste
December 11, 2023 at 4:06 PM

“El Soldador,” directed by Alexandra Martinez, explores the life of a homeless welder and the care he receives from a team of street medics. The film will be screened as part of “Pass the Mic: We Will Tell Our Stories” on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Martinez)

Storytelling possesses the ability to disrupt preconceived notions and biases through the presentation of varied narratives and perspectives. With this principle in mind, Oolite Arts will screen the works of 13 filmmakers on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at Little Haiti Cultural Complex.

Through a series of short films that weave together a tapestry of diverse stories, the movie creators hope to draw the public’s attention on Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood affected by gentrification and issues that many Miamians face daily.

In Angelica Bourland’s “Kaila,” a young girl who is forced to leave Haiti struggles to adapt to life with her aunt in Miami, in a story that speaks to the neighborhood as a place for new beginnings. (Photo courtesy of Angelica Bourland)

Hansel Porras Garcia, Oolite’s cinematic arts manager, emphasizes the significance of featuring stories from communities such as Little Haiti. “It helps in preserving and celebrating their cultural heritage. It acknowledges their contributions to the larger societal tapestry, encouraging cultural preservation and pride.”

In discussing the narratives addressing social issues portrayed in the films—such as immigration, affordable housing, representation and inclusion challenges, and criminal justice reform—Garcia believes that they “also have the potential to motivate individuals and communities to take action.”

The short films, which be screened in the arts complex’s Proscenium Theater were made through two programs supported by Oolite Arts.

The first,“Pass the Mic: We Will Tell Our Stories,” returns for its third edition. According to Garcia, it was created as a collaboration between Oolite Arts and Community Justice Project. The three filmmakers had four months to complete the commissioned works and were paired with community experts from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Miami Street Medicine, and Chainless Change. Each filmmaker received $7,500 to create the work.

The approach involves the subjects themselves serving as the storytellers, offering a firsthand perspective on the challenges they encounter.

In “El Soldador,” director Alexandra Martinez focuses on Ramon Duarte, a Nicaraguan welder who is now living on the streets struggling with alcoholism and depression. “The short documentary follows his journey to make better decisions for himself amid countless systemic failures, and how receiving care from the Miami Street Medicine team empowered him to hopefully make those decisions,” says Martinez.

Filmmaker Alexandra Martinez worked with Miami Street Medicine on her short “El Soldador” for “Pass the Mic: We Will Tell Our Stories.” (Photo courtesy of Alejandra Libertad)

The local filmmaker says she visited the public library to read archived newspaper articles and legal filings, gathering historical insights into the treatment of the homeless community in Miami.

To research Ramon’s story in particular, Martinez says she spent time with him—as much as he was comfortable with. “We spoke about his life in Nicaragua, the music he grew up with, his family, and how so much changed when he immigrated to Miami. He showed me the areas he spends time in, where he stays now, and where he used to work.”

The filmmaker confesses making the movie impacted her perspective on homelessness. “Just realizing how quickly and easily someone can become homeless, how dangerous and unstable conditions are, how rapidly someone can be sent to jail, then released back onto the streets without any support systems in place—it was jarring.”

Also included in “Pass the Mic” are Chad Tingle’s “Preemption,” which highlights the efforts of local advocates associated with Chainless Change, a South Floridan organization fighting mass incarceration, and Pamela Largaespada’s “Madre Sombra” chronicling a family’s efforts to attain legal status for their mother in the context of Florida’s evolving immigration laws, working with Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Over a cup of steaming lemongrass tea, Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat reflects on tradition, love, and motherhood in Alilcia Edwards’ “Citronelle.” (Photo courtesy of Alicia Edwards)

The second part of the program, “Local Love Letters,” which is in its second year, debuted in 2022 in response to a joint initiative by Oolite Arts and the City of Miami, urging filmmakers from Miami to create short films inspired by their city. Ten filmmakers were selected each receiving $5,000 to create short films set against the backdrop of Little Haiti.

This year’s “Local Love Letters: Little Haiti” includes Nadia Wolff’s “Chante Lapenn,” which is described as an experimental grief portrait, while Diana Larrea’s “Querido Pequeño Haiti” explores immigrant communities bidding farewell to a disappearing neighborhood.

Each film contributes to a vibrant tapestry of experiences within Little Haiti. In “Down to Zero,” Joshua Jean-Baptiste portrays a man navigating the challenges of aging through a candid conversation with his lifelong barber. Xavier Serrano’s “En la Pequeña Haití” follows a Cuban woman’s exploration in Little Haiti, and Alicia Edwards’ “Citronelle” features Edwidge Danticat reflecting on tradition, love, and motherhood.

In her short film centered around the author of “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” filmmaker Alicia Edwards explains that it was a natural choice for her to create a movie about the esteemed novelist, describing Danticat as “a stalwart supporter of her Little Haiti community.”

Filmmaker Alicia Edwards shares that creating a film about acclaimed novelist Edwidge Danticat was a natural choice, given Danticat’s steadfast support for her Little Haiti community.” (Photo courtesy of Alicia Edwards)

Edwards elaborates: “Edwidge Danticat has raised her family in the area, she’s fought for causes that are dear to her, and supported local businesses. When ‘Love Letters to Little Haiti’ was proposed, the idea of the film was inevitable. Little Haiti and Ms. Danticat are inseparable in my mind.”

The filmmaker hopes that viewers will perceive the author as a mother successfully navigating the balance between family and work, much like many others.

Noteworthy as well is Angelica Bourland’s “Kaila,” a short film following the challenges of a young girl who was compelled to leave Haiti and her endeavors to adapt to a new life with her aunt in Miami. 

Bourland, drawing from her own upbringing in Miami with a Brazilian refugee mother, expresses a profound understanding of her mother’s experience immigrating to the United States.

“In today’s world, she says, where displacement due to conflict and violence are prevalent, the film ‘Kaila’ humanizes the refugee experience. The narrative of a young refugee meeting her aunt for the first time was an opportunity for me to explore family dynamics with the themes of connection, trust, and eventually the start of building a new family unit,” says Bourland.

Angelica Bourland directed “Kaila,” a short film following the challenges of a young girl compelled to leave Haiti trying to adapt to a new life with her aunt in Miami. (Photo courtesy of Angelica Bourland)

Beyond personal narratives, Bourland’s intention extends to advocating for the preservation of Little Haiti, spotlighting the “beauty, resilience, and cultural richness” of the Haitian neighborhood confronting the threat of aggressive gentrification.

“When Little Haiti was first established,” says Bourland, “the main purpose was to welcome Haitians in the U.S. I want this film to be a reflection of why it needs to keep on existing, to be a safe space for Haitians to come to when moving to the U.S. To have a community with their people and their culture alive and thriving.”

Garcia underscores the importance of screening the films, emphasizing that they humanize complex social issues by putting faces to the challenges individuals encounter.

“These stories provide a window into the lives of others, fostering empathy and understanding,” says Garcia. “By experiencing different perspectives and narratives, viewers can develop a deeper appreciation for the challenges and triumphs of communities like Little Haiti, ultimately promoting a more compassionate society.”

For Martinez of “El Soldador,” the films not only tell stories but, as she says, “speak truth to power.”

WHAT: “Pass the Mic + Local Love Letters: Little Haiti Screening”

 WHERE: Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami

 WHEN:  7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13     

 COST: Free. RSVP at Oolite Arts

 INFORMATION: 305-674-8278 or oolitearts.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

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