Monsieur le Président, by filmmaker Victoria E. Campbell, is a documentary filmed in Haiti over the three years following the devastating earthquake of 2010. The film examines the rise and fall of Gaston Jean Edy, called affectionately and respectfully by the people, Monsieur le Président. Gaston is an intelligent, ordinary citizen of the hilltop village Christ-Roi. He is not an elected official, but takes it upon himself to establish a relationship with the filmmaker and with Italian TV news anchor, Claudio Angelini, who helps Gaston create and raise funds for his own non-governmental organization (NGO) called Haitian Solidarity. For at least 2 years Gaston uses the funds fairly and wisely, helping the people in his remote village immensely. But then, as with many who administer donated funds, he begins to use much of the money for his own benefit. The film’s logline also tells us that Gaston is a Voodoo priest, information that seems mainly to be used to titillate us into viewing the film.
We are never let in on why Campbell goes to Haiti after the quake. She tells us in voice-over that her father called and told her she should get down there and bring her friend who also speaks French. Does Campbell have a connection to Haiti, a previous interest in Haiti? Does she go because her father tells her to, or simply because Haiti needs help and she speaks French?
The photography in the film is very well done. The images show us the extent of the devastation and the depth of the poverty, as well as the beauty and potential of Haiti. But the narration is mind numbing. Campbell appropriately narrates the film herself, as the film is really about Campbell’s reactions to Haiti. Her bio states she was an actress, but she has no talent for narration. Campbell drones on in a whiny, monotone that sounds nothing like the occasional snippet we hear of her on-camera voice. The narration, all about Campbell’s feelings and impressions, does not allow for the audience to ingest and digest the images she shows us, or get to know the people she interacts with.
The film lacks a political perspective which becomes harshly evident by the end of the film when Campbell judges Gaston for his misappropriation of funds. Campbell completely forgets all of the significant good Gaston had accomplished (16,000 people in two years seen by the clinic he established) and implies that he is now possessed by an evil spirit of Voodoo. When Gaston makes excuses for his actions Campbell says she knows this is not the West, and “things are different in Haiti”, but how could he? Gaston points out to her that theft, greed, and self-interest exist in Western culture too.
Campbell says she trusted Gaston, thought he was a friend who understood her. But after his fall from grace she begins to feel ignored, treated suddenly like a naive foreigner, only there to dole out money. She ponders, “Maybe that’s what I’ve been all along?” In the beginning of Campbell’s and Gaston’s relationship Gaston asks an ice cream vendor to give Victoria (Campbell) a free ice cream. The man responds in Creole, “Whitey go fuck yourself. I don’t like it when whites come here and take photos and make videos.”
Monsieur le Président, Documentary Film, There are no upcoming screenings.
Director: VICTORIA CAMPBELL
Producer: Bruce Campbell, Libby Howland, Dolly Campbell, Victoria Campbell
Cinematographer: Victoria Campbell
Editor: Victoria Campbell
Music: Dave Rivera, Christroi Musicians, Kristof Spaning
Running Time: 72
Language: English, French, Creole