An Interview with Haitian Filmmaker Jean-Claude Bourjolly

An Interview with Haitian Filmmaker Jean-Claude Bourjolly

Sonson, Jean-Claude Bourjolly’s most well-known film thus far, was released in 2003. In an era when practically all the other filmmakers were engrossing movie audiences with romantic comedies and dramas, Bourjolly’s Sonson stood out with its country setting, simple plot, and 80’s Haiti background.

The movie’s protagonist Sonson has a goat that is his very livelihood. The goat is stolen, and the culprit is none other than the town’s chief police brother. Together they assure that Sonson is neither reimbursed for his loss, nor that the thief is rendered his proper castigation. Sonson’s desire to create his own justice leads to the film’s harrowing ending. Though the film did not receive the popular acclaim from the masses that Bourjolly was probably hoping for, it did show that there was slight interest in unique stories like that of Sonson that captured Haitian life at its most basic.

No doubt aware that he would have to spice up things a bit to appeal to a much bigger audience, Bourjolly worked on Le Chauffeur next, a story about ill-fated lovers: the girl, the progeny of an elite family in Haiti. And the guy? The title character who trespasses on societal taboos to be with her. His next project was a film called Jod, yet another drama that he directed and wrote. This time, Bourjolly explored the effects of immigration on marriage and relationships. We caught up with Bourjolly to see what he has up his cinematic sleeves.

Can you tell us about yourself, and how you came to be involved in movies?
I had my beginnings in cinema through sheer circumstance. I was a photographer and I have this penchant for attention to detail. I realized that I had to put myself in the game to bring some positive changes to it. I wanted to say something different from what I was always hearing.

In terms of Haitian movies, things have slowed down significantly in the past few years.
It’s not that it doesn’t exist anymore; it’s just that it’s weakening and the reason is simple. We all think we can function on our own. Why can’t we put our heads together? Let me give you an example. In your opinion, why do you think there are all these religions? Because we all want to be pastors. We want to be the head of the church. We have too many film associations. I get the impression that we have an association for every movie set profession. How are we ever going to accomplish anything?

While your peers were making romance-driven films, what motivated you to do a movie like Sonson>?
I mentioned this earlier. I wanted to so something different in the business. There’s a bunch of guys out there who haven’t studied film who are just taking advantage of the whole situation. You don’t make movies just to feed yourself or just to call attention to yourself or to make yourself popular. You make movies because you have something to say. I put it clearly: when you have something to say. There are folks who do a movie just because they have the urge to talk, but you have to agree with me that a lot of people have the urge to speak, simply because their mouth is itching not necessarily because they have something worthwhile to say. It’s this tendency that we need to overcome. There aren’t 10 Woody Allens in the USA. If the movie industry is giving you an opportunity, you ought to go to school, not beat on your chest.

After Sonson, you directed a film called Le Chauffeur. Can you tell us about it?
Le Chauffeur closed out the 3rd Edition of the Montreal Black Film Festival and the critics were unanimous. It’s a great film that was made with little means, but it’s a film. You can compare it alongside any other movie made by a non-Haitian. Le Chauffeur talks about the subtle violence and the hypocrisy that exists in our society. It’s a really interesting subject. I haven’t shown it in Haiti simply to avoid problems. To prevent bootlegging. Meanwhile, it can continue to be shown at festivals. And when the Haitian audience is ready for it, they’ll give the signal.

When you are casting a film, what do you look for in your actors?
I’m always looking for something in their demeanor. It’s the first thing that identifies an actor.

What directors do you admire?
In terms of the ones who are out now: Samuel Vincent, Moise Karmeliaud, Jephté Bastien, though he’s pretty much have moved on from the local movement. I love Laurence Magloire a lot. She did a movie called Des Hommes et des Dieux. [Also] Arnold Antonin [and] Raphael Stines. In terms of foreigners, I like Ridley Scott, Francis Ford Coppola, Spielberg, George Lucas.

Any actors or actresses you’d like to work with?
Reginald Lubin, Smoye Noisy, Sophia Désir, Manfred Marcelin; there are others who I can’t think of right now.

What projects do you have in store for your fans?
I have lots of projects, and after Sonson, Le Chauffeur and Jod, I want to stay true to my roots. I’m working on something of major caliber for them. I’m going after works by bestselling novelists.

What makes a successful movie?
A director who’s got good sense, integrity—who has something to say, who has a story to tell.

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