I arrived two days beforehand to ensure all plans remained on track. I met up with the local crew I had hired to go over my rules and my expectations of them. They were young Haitians, most of whom were not used to having a “job”, so I stressed timeliness as this was generally the biggest issue whenever I worked with local teams. We all would meet the rest of the production crew for the first time at the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital.
Traveling within Haiti on small planes
After brief introductions (this was my first time meeting anyone face-to-face) we spent quite some time clearing customs. With several hundred pounds of production equipment, this was no easy feat even though everything should have been cleared by the Ministry of Tourism beforehand. Finally, with customs out of the way, we quickly loaded a waiting truck with all the equipment and boarded a 20-minute flight to Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s colonial capital in the north. This would provide the production crew (who had been traveling all day) free time to rest while we waited for the truckload of equipment (a 7-hour trip complete with driver and armed guard) to reach us at our hotel much later that evening.
The next couple of days were spent traveling in and around Cap-Haitien, getting in contact with our interviewees, securing access to locations we would need, and filming various segments.
Having worked on many productions in Haiti over the years, this was by far the largest. As my team scrambled to get people who appeared in front of the camera to fill out release forms, I paid a lot of attention to the way the film crew worked, how shots were directed, and how drone shots were planned. It was all very interesting, and of course, I couldn’t wait to see the final result.
Unfortunately, the production was cut short due to the announcement of fast-approaching hurricane Dorian. Since Haiti usually doesn’t fair well during extreme weather, and Labor Day was quickly approaching, the production crew decided to leave while they had the chance instead of risking getting stuck in Haiti over the holiday. There was also increased tension in the streets due to the fast-rising price of gas at the pumps. Production was cut by a couple of days, and they flew back to the States.
I decided to stay and spent an additional 2 months in Port-au-Prince. As it turned out, Hurricane Dorian totally missed Haiti, but the gas shortage got fairly severe and eventually caused lots of social unrest.
Back to the States
I finally got back to the States, and as months went by and we were thrown into the Covid-19 pandemic, and when confronted with the George Floyd incident and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, the United States was ironically thrown into social instability of its own. I completely forgot about the Travel Channel show until a random Google search led me to promotions of the initial airing in June.
All of a sudden, I was full of anxiety, worried about whether or not they had kept their promise to accurately and respectfully represent Haitian culture. In order to get people to participate in the episode, I was often asked if the “blan” were going to make them look stupid. I had to promise that they wouldn’t, which was difficult knowing that despite promises, I had absolutely no control over the post-production process.
Flying back to Port-au-Prince from Cap-Haitien
Being a video producer myself, I fully understood that what is filmed, and what eventually appears in the final production can be two totally different things. So naturally, I was concerned about being made a total fool of in a final production mimicking films of yore depicting Haitian Voodoo as evil and backwards with nonsensical ceremonies being performed out of context without any rhyme or reason.
It Finally Aired
When it finally aired, I took a look at it,… and I was pleased. First of all, I appeared way more than I thought I would and felt I came across as someone who in general, knew what he was talking about, and fairly authoritative. In reality, my knowledge of Haitian Voodoo is not extensive. I’m not a practitioner, but have always been curious, have always asked lots of questions, and have not been afraid to attend a ceremony here and there (both in Haiti and the U.S.) I even went further and consistently pronounced Voodoo the Haitian way; “Vodou” – to differentiate typical Haitian Voodoo with that which is practiced in Louisiana.
I believe I have a well-rounded view of what Haitian Voodoo is, where it comes from, and how it came to be. I respect it as I do all religions of the world, and can intelligently speak about it when asked, but I am no expert. However, I’ve always been baffled by other Haitians who are so ashamed of it that they actively deny it. The mere mention of it can create consternation and problems. Some people have even told me they cannot watch this episode due to their Christian faith, as if merely watching it infers some kind of acceptance. These same people would have no problems watching a documentary about Inca sacrificial practices, or South Pacific cannibalism, but because it’s Haitian Voodoo and hits so close to home, it’s a problem. Meanwhile, these people all know someone who believes and practices it whether they deny it or not. At least one person has unfriended me on Facebook due to my participation in this episode. (Others may also after reading this.) Oh well! La vie continue…
I was pleased!
At the end of the day, I think the episode was very well produced albeit a little sensationalized. With the Travel Channel seeking a different demographic, their content has turned to darker, mysterious, and magical subject matter in an effort to attract viewers and ensure their bottom line. They are no longer about Travel. The show is not targeting the detail-seeking intellectual and was full of made-up bits, mild inconsistencies, and half-truths. But overall, it filled its purpose in remaining entertaining while being informational.
Again, I was pleased.