"Kanaval: A People's History of Haiti in Six Chapters"is a great documentary on revelry and the past

"Without the carnival, people would go mad"

Haiti has an unbelievably rich history that remains relatively obscure. Beyond the Haitian revolution, few know much about the country's independence debt, the American invasion of 1915 or the reign of Duvalier and his son. In the country's ~220 years of formal independence, it's garnered a storied history of culture and conflict that is both inspiring and infuriating. No one knows this better than the Haitians themselves, who narrate Kanaval: A People's History of Haiti in Six Chapters.

Filmmakers Leah Gordon and Eddie Hutton Mill sought to create a film that told the story of Haiti through the symbolism present in the southern city of Jacmel's Carnival season. Parades roll through the streets, the reveler's costumes tell their story. A troupe of men in black paint and ropes tell of human bondage and freedom. A crowd of chattering, exaggerated mouths make a mockery of political trials and the lack of free speech under Duvalier. The ambitious documentary covers the role and stigma of "vodou", the use of Creole, the massacre of the indigenous Tainos, Charlemagne Péralte, the country's poverty. All of Haiti's history is a huge topic to cover, yes, but the filmmakers masterfully create a coherent, interesting and visually striking documentary that makes this history lesson a treat to watch. We see the paraders get ready for carnival as they make their thrifty costumes, work out, dance, cook. Each scene is elaborated on by narration provided by Haitians, or "vernacular historians" who explain the significance of their outfits and of their celebration from the side streets of the parades. The eventual reveal of the carnival is incredibly impactful and left me beaming and crying simultaneously. This film deserves wide recognition and should be watched in public classrooms and basement revolutionary meetings alike.

"Haiti managed to beat Napoleon on a very low budget", says Leah Gordon. Carnival is made in much the same way. Haitians tell their story through pantomime and elaborate costumes made of unrecognizable household objects. The parade's stragglers meander past shops and declining concrete walls, the camera follows them, as Gordon phrases it, like the spirits. Joel Honeywell's cinematography is exceptional, beautifully capturing all the colorful nuances of costumes, earth and skin.

To approximate something Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes said at a Q&A for the film "Carnival is a survival technique. Poor folk don't have the option to go lie down on the therapist's couch".

Unfortunately, the film isn't streaming at the moment. You'll have to wait for it to hit a service or the documentary screening circuit. Keep an eye out! There is, however, a book of photographs from director Leah Gordon which is available, full of carnival interviews. Kanaval is available here.

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