I began filming my first feature film, Grassroots, at the age of 24. Today I am 30, and I am proud to say that it was just released on Amazon.com. I can't believe that this project, six years in the making is actually finished, and that I am now holding a shrink-wrapped DVD in my hands.
The timing is actually quite bizarre. The film’s goals were to raise awareness for three chronic injustices plaguing Miami. One of these injustices was the fact that Haitian nationals in Miami are not granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). We interviewed Jean Robert la Fortune from the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition and Irwin Stotsky, a human rights attorney and Haiti expert from the University of Miami, to explain why Haitians had never been granted TPS. It’s bittersweet and coincidental, that on the heels of this horrific earthquake, Haitians finally have TPS, and that’s when Grassroots gets released on Amazon.
The film, I believe, will now serve as an interesting educational tool for sociologists, political scientists, Cuban-Americans, Haitian-Americans, African-Americans, and anyone interested in a snapshot of how culture and politics came to affect the 2004 US Presidential election in Miami. In a nerdy way, I think it’s also pretty entertaining.
Grassroots was my first film, and a graduation of sorts, since my later projects were more professional productions. Besides the plethora of technical things I learned, I gained a valuable life lesson. I learned that life is full of obstacles and challenges, but nothing is more of an obstacle than your own mind. Working on the film off an on over the course of 6 years, I ripped up 3 or 4 different scripts before I wrote the right one. There was no funding. At many moments, I found myself in the darkness staring at my computer screen wondering why I was still editing this film. At many points I wanted to give up, but something inside didn’t allow me to do so.
I didn’t give up because of all the wonderful, sad, and ultimately sacred human experiences I had while making the film.
I didn’t give up because of Chris Goldberg dashing from house to house in Little Haiti just before the polls closed, Ari’s speech while eating soul food in Liberty City, the tears of the canvassers after Bush’s victory was announced, the lady screaming “Kerry Communista” at the top of her lungs in Hialeah, the flat tires on a dark Costa Rican highway on New Years Eve.
I didn’t give up because of the tens of thousands of Haitians living in the shadows, or the tens of thousands of African-Americans who have been disenfranchised.
I didn’t give up because I had hundreds of voices and images in my head screaming at me to be freed.
The film probably won’t win any awards, and so I would like to deliver my faux Oscar speech, on my personal blog, right where it should be:
Firstly, the person who always believed in this project, my co-collaborator from the very beginning, a skilled producer, cameraman, and friend, Alex Ragir.
Secondly, a person who didn’t work on the film but served as an incredible mentor throughout. In the darkest hours of this project, Rhonda Mitrani was there to shine a light.
Then there’s my Miami brother Elad Gefen, the supremely talented editor who expertly crafted this picture from the first frame to the last. Ladi’s technical and artistic wizardry are all over this production.
This film is worth buying alone for the musical genius of Adam Weinberg. His Cuban-Caribbean rhythms are a listening pleasure and the best score I could have ever asked for.
Then there’s Gerald Jones and Adrian Baschuk, two of the best doco shooters around, who helped fill in when we needed some extra help in Miami.
Finally, I want to give a special thanks to Chris Goldberg and the rest of the Grassroots canvassers, who graciously allowed us to document their experiences that fateful November, and beyond. We are truly grateful.
In light of the election of an African-American president in 2008 and the granting of TPS to Haitians in 2010, MLK’s words never seemed so true.
“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”