Haiti’s Triomphe reopens after decades in the dark
It’s been nearly three decades since Haiti’s Triomphe cinema shuttered its doors, but the storied theater is back — and with a bit of Hollywood swag to boot.
With the red carpet rolled out and an official photographer in place, some of Haiti’s top entertainers celebrated Triomphe’s grand reopening, a sign for many that things might finally be turning after the devastating earthquake in 2010.
The theater closed its doors in 1987, and like so many iconic Portau-Prince buildings, was destroyed in the massive quake that killed more than 250,000 people and shattered much of the country’s infrastructure.
No films have been publicly screened anywhere for six years, in a country where access to basics — such as clean water and elec- tricity — are a daily struggle, let alone film projectors and screens.
The symbolic re-opening of Triomphe, which means “triumph” in English, is an important turning point for the impoverished island nation.
“It gives us the feeling of being somewhere very normal on Earth,” said Emmelie Prophete, director of Haiti’s copyright office. “We’ve missed this.” The audience filed into the refurbished theater — newly outfitted with classic velvet seats, spotlights and a heavy curtain on stage in front of the big screen.
The theater, on the main Champs de Mars square, was rebuilt with funds from the government, which took over the crumbling structure.
The reopening marks a new chapter for the cinema, whose ruins had been occupied by squat- ters, homeless children and merchants for several years.
Now, Haiti’s leaders hope the space will usher in a new era of cultural production, artistic creativity and, above all, hope for Haiti’s young people.
“We are very happy to return this space to the people of Haiti, a country where young people are looking for entertainment and safe spaces where they can have fun,” President Michel Martelly, a former pop star, said at the inauguration.
Many hope Triomphe’s rebirth will allow for a return to its heyday, when it was the largest theater in the Caribbean and attracted big- name entertainers such as French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour and Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias.
For Prophete, the theater’s re- opening has deep nostalgic significance too.
“It’s a part of childhood for people of my generation that is coming back to life,” said Prophete, in her 40s.
And now, Triomphe will shape a new set of memories for Haiti’s youth, many of whom have never been to the movies.
“Many teenagers will be able to discover what it means to go to the cinema ... this is another way of enjoying art, another life.”
As the evening’s program gets underway, the theater is plunged into darkness and the heavy curtain is drawn.
Dancers, singers and actors shuffle on to the stage for classic performances — a nod to Haiti’s rich and globally influenced cultural history.
In the absence of formal arts venues, much of that culture has moved into the streets, where music, dancing and other performances are often staged on the fly.
Just a walk down the street, taking in everyday sounds, smells and colors is a sensory feast.
One source of entertainment are the public buses, known as “tap-taps,” that are exuberantly painted and act as roving works of art.
While singer and voodoo priest Erol Josue appreciates this form of public art, he hailed the newly revamped performance space as a “huge development.”
But some filmmakers and actors have complained on social media that the Triomphe has no real vision or clear role for the country’s cultural industries.
Nonetheless, Josue insisted the opening was a turning point for Haiti as it rebuilds, and a land- mark for its arts sector.
“As a country with so much culture, to have this space, five years after the earthquake, is a major moment in the cultural history of Haiti,” he said.
Haitian president, Michel Martelly, center, with first lady Sophia Martelly, attends the inauguration of the rebuilt CineTriomphe in Port-au-Prince on Friday, June 19.