Director: Asger Leth, Release date: 20 July
Ghosts of Cité Soleil is a documentary about two brothers, Bily and Haitian 2pac, who are leaders of the gang known as the Chimères (ghosts). They are two of five gang leaders who control heavily armed young people in Cité Soleill, the poorest slum of Port-au-Prince, the capital of the poorest country of the Western hemisphere, Haiti.
It's 2004 and a rebel army is advancing on the capital in order to depose the Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was the first democratically elected president of Haiti with the support of the poorest of the population. Cité Soleilll is a stronghold of his support.
Danish filmmaker Leth has enjoyed unprecedented access to Cité Soleill. The United Nations called the slum the "most dangerous place on earth". It is not difficult to see why. Leth takes his camera through the muddy backstreets of the slum following the early twenties gang leaders and their acolytes. We are faced with a place where violence is commonplace, guns are everywhere and basic services and jobs are nowhere to be seen.
The Chimères unofficially work for Aristide - guarding his house or being the muscle against the opposition. Bily is the most political of the two brothers. He supports Aristide as he is the only one who stands for the people of Cité Soleill and the poor in general. His brother 2pac is different. He wants to become a rapper and, although he guards Aristide's house at night, during the day he writes songs highly critical of the man.
What follows is an insight into the lives of poor young men and women trying to stay alive in a country about to change. Leth's directing is so stylised that you almost forget that it is a documentary. Most importantly, one of the big weakness of Ghosts of Cité Soleill is that if you don't know anything about Haiti you're not about to learn more.
Although the film begins with a few lines about the context, it is hardly enough to understand why Haiti is in such a dire state.
The documentary was made in 2004, 200 years after Haiti's independence was won by slaves led by Toussaint L'Ouverture following 13 years of war against British, French and Spanish forces. Haiti's poverty is a direct legacy of slavery, reinforced by the fact that the imperial powers would not forgive or forget L'Ouverture's victory (which became an inspiration for African and Latin America liberation movements). France only recognised Haiti in 1825 after it forced the newly independent country to pay massive compensation to the slave owners - Haiti made the last payment in 1947 - making Haiti a systematically indebted country.
The US also occupied the island for nearly 20 years from 1916, reorganising the economy to suit its interests - a kind of structural adjustment before its time. After years of military rule and dictators Duvalier (father and son), popular hope came in the form of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then a radical priest adept at liberation theology. He tried to lift most of Haiti's population from misery to poverty but this was met with hostility from the business elite and their allies in the White House and France. Aristide was finally deposed by a US-French backed right wing coup which was sanctified by the UN.
In conclusion, Ghosts of Cité Soleill gives you a good glimpse at what it is like to be at the sharp end of the International Monetary Fund and the imperialist powers, but it definitely fails to show how the situation came about.