Interview with HaitiXchange.com
Jeremy Robins and Magali Damas are shooting a documentary entitled “The
Other Side of the Water”. Magali Damas also happens to be the video coordinator
for HaitiXchange.com. The film explores what happens when a group of young immigrants
take an ancient music from the hills of Haiti and reinvent it on the streets
of Brooklyn. They’ve been working on this film for quite some time, and
will screen a preview at the HaitiXchange – 18 Mai Committee, 3rd Annual
Haitian Film Festival to be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on September
1 and 2, 2005.
We recently caught up with them for this Xclusive interview:
HaitiXchange: What is “The Other Side of the Water”?
Jeremy Robins: “The Other Side of the Water” is a documentary-in-progress that focuses on Dja-RaRa – a rara band made up of young immigrants who have taken the traditional vodou-inspired walking music from the hills of Haiti and reinvented in Brooklyn. It’s a portrait of an under-the-radar side of the city, and ultimately it’s a story of “cultural activism,” where these young guys are taking all these forgotten and stigmatized elements of history and using them to forge a new voice in the Haitian-American community of New York.
Magali Damas: Our title “The Other Side of the Water” comes from the full name of the band “DjaRara: Lot Bo Dlo.” The idea of coming/being across the water is central to the documentary. As the band’s founder Yves puts it “The wind that blew us here will one day blow us back.”
HX: How did this project come about?
MD: In 2002 I had just returned from Haiti where I had been for ten years. On a rainy night in September a friend took me out to hear Djarara, and I found myself running through streets in the middle of a huge crowd through the rain, and it was as if a piece of Brooklyn had been transformed into Haiti. I knew then that this story needed to be told.
JR: I had been interested doing a project about Haiti for a while. Back in school I was reading C.L.R. James and Paul Farmer, and listening to Boukman and Ram. And years ago I met an old-time musicologist with Smithsonian Folkways who had traveled the world for decades recording every kind of music, and she told me that the most amazing music she’s ever heard is Rara music in Haiti. Two years ago I met Magi on another project, and found out that she had been filming with a Rara band in Brooklyn for over a year. She took me to see them rehearse one night in a scrap-yard on Pacific Ave, and we haven’t looked back since.
HX: Where are you in the process?
JR: We’ve been filming and editing for about a year and a half. We’re in the final stage of production hope to finish the final edit this fall. BAM is showing a work-in-progress of the documentary this September 1st and 2nd as a part of the Haitian Film Festival.
MD: That’s why we’re currently looking for interns and funds to finish.
HX: What challenges have you faced along the way?
JR: Any documentary is a huge challenge from start to finish. Specifically with this piece we’ve always been concerned that there’s still a lot of mis-information about Haitian culture in the mainstream media – especially about Vodou. So it adds some pressure to do an accurate and responsible job. Overall I thought it would be more difficult to get access to the musicians’ lives, especially when it came to entering people’s homes and filming Vodou ceremonies. But everyone’s been incredibly open and has really supported the documentary from the beginning.
MD: Being a first generation Haitian-American, my biggest challenge is to try to present positive information about Haiti, but also remain objective as a filmmaker about this aspect of the Haitian experience.
HX: Where can people get more information on the documentary?
MD: You can see a trailer, learn more about the project, contact us, and make a much-needed donation on out website: www.othersideofthewater.org
People can find information about BAM’s Haitian Film Festival at: