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HAITI - DREAMS OF DEMOCRACY

UK, 1987 (MIFF 1988, Documentary)

Director: Jonathan Demme, Jo Menell

The seemingly spontaneous boycott of the sham elections held in February in Haiti makes a lot more sense after one has seen Jonathan Demme's documentary on Haitian street life in the post-Duvalier era.

Shot entirely on videotape in the streets of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel a year ago (a period marking the first anniversary of Baby Doc's expulsion), Dreams of Democracy has immediacy to burn. It's a percolating mix of pulsating crowds and quick background sketches, toothless ranting and coolly delivered analysis, appalling statistics and voodoo ceremonies, visionary murals and sidewalk cynicism, made by an impassioned, wildly appreciative tourist with a taste for cha-cha fantasy and an eye for funky detail. In its engagingly empathetic populism, infectious, herky-jerky flow, and deft, carnivalesque mise-en-scene, Haiti - Dreams of Democracy is not unlike a Demme feature,' It just arose from the Haitian spirit,' the director told me, "one thing literally led to another '

It isn't exactly a political tract, and although the mood is upbeat, it can't really offer much hope that for a country as impoverished as Haiti, participatory (if not economic) democracy could be anything other than a dream. Like a more hopped-up version of a Les Blank doco, Dreams of Democracy zaps you with the Utopian component of the indigenous pop culture, stressing the importance of music, folk art, street pageants, and particularly the radio -which, in a nation where the illiteracy rate is something like 85 per cent is the primary public sphere " - J Hoberman 'Village Voice'

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