On January 30, filmmakers, artists, and cine aficionados from all over the world gathered in the sunny capital of the Dominican Republic for the conclusion of the Santo Domingo Global Film Festival (Festival de Cine Global Dominicano, FCGD). The festival is an initiative from the Global Democracy and Development Foundation (GFFD) to provide a space for art, film, connection, and celebration that reaches multiple cities in the DR, and the city of Port Au Prince in Haiti.
The end of the festival brought with it much cause for celebration as renowned Haitian director, Gessica Généus was awarded the Opera Prime in Fiction prize for her film “Freda.” Généus, an actress, producer, and the owner of her own production company extended a triumphant global run collecting all kinds of accolades and awards.
“Freda,” is a fictional autobiography as confirmed by Généus. The film reproduces the daily life of many young girls in Haiti, particularly those from our working-class neighborhoods. In an interview with Filmmaker, Généus explained that life for her “was extremely difficult” and consisted of “a bunch of battles and a lot of patience,” especially after her mother was diagnosed as bipolar with schizophrenia. Some of those same difficulties are reflected in the film, but through the point of view of complex female characters who are pulled together and apart by differing motivations and hope for their future in Haiti.
As reported by MagHaiti, many women identified with Freda and the film as a whole, pointing to the character’s feminist portrayal and themes related to national culture and resiliency. Over 95% of the film was shot in Haitian Creole as opposed to French, symbolically rejecting the legacy of colonialism, interventionism, and colorism in Haiti while creating a conversation around the subject.
Généus wrote and directed the film during the pandemic, and had to work around PetroCaribe protests and lockdowns as a result of the pandemic. Despite the challenges present over two years of filming in Port-Au-Prince, Généus persevered and finished the film starring a Haitian cast inclusive of non-actors. The leading cast of “Freda” include, Néhémie Bastien as Freda, Fabiola Remy as her mother, Janette, and Djanaïna François as her sister Esther.
Prior to the Santo Domingo, “Freda” had been featured at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, making it the the only the second Haitian film to be featured in 23 years, according to the director herself. Buzz around a potential International Film Feature category nomination at the American Academy Awards circulated last December, but Généus did not ultimately receive the nomination, though it was the only Haitian film considered.
Nonetheless, Généus continues to rise to the top. Outside of “Freda,” the world famous Haitian director, actress, and producer has been busy. She was recently appointed President of the Film Fiction Commission of the Fonds Image de la Francophonie, a group that helps fund film projects from French speaking countries.
For Haiti, Généus’ accomplishments represent a great source of national pride, hope, and inspiration. Despite the limitations of the film industry in Haiti, Généus has found ways of persevering and soaring to new heights. A clear example of this is Généus’ production company, Ayizan Productions, which is based in Haiti and was one of the companies behind the success of “Freda” and some of Généus’ other notable works and documentaries.
Director Gessica Généus has overcome difficult socio-political circumstances in her home country and challenges within her own life to become one of Haiti’s most well-recognized citizens and filmmakers. Clearly, “Freda” continues to leave its mark on the global stage, marking Généus’ ever more illustrious career and Haiti’s ascent to a more prominent role in present day world cinema.
Fernanda Ponce is an undergraduate student studying Critical Race & Ethnic Studies at the University of Chicago. As the proud first generation Mexican American daughter of immigrants, Fernanda strives to enrich her knowledge of Latin America to better understand global, cultural, and socio-historical ties to the region. Through her writing, Fernanda hopes to further deepen her relationships with individuals and communities and respectfully share their stories with a wider audience to build greater understanding, appreciation, and connection with each other.