Haiti’s Tri­om­phe re­opens af­ter decades in the dark

The China Post - - ARTS - BY AM­I­LIE BARON

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.

Cin­ema Nos­tal­gia

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.

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