Eight-year-old Isma Widline hasn't had any homework since her school was one of 3,000 to collapse during the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake. Electricity, thus television, is spotty, and a lot of her friends have left the area.
So when she saw hundreds of people gathering around a podium assembled a few blocks from her house on a recent evening, she went to check things out.
This was not just another evening in Carrefour, the neighborhood best known now as the epicenter of the quake. Curiosity turned to excitement as Widline watched, for the first time in her life, a movie projected onto a large screen.
Her smile is what the creators of Sinema Anba Zetwal – Cinema Under the Stars – had hoped for when they founded their nonprofit nine years ago.
Composed of professional artists from various disciplines, the group’s mission – to unite people through cinema, video, and the power of mass media – has become even more significant in the country’s post-earthquake recovery.
“Everything that was being donated for the victims of the quake was for their belly,” says general coordinator Tatiana Magloire, whose mother cofounded SAZ. “But nothing was for the head. So the theme of this four-day SAZ tour is 'Food for the Soul.' You have to feed yourself within to heal, and the best way to do that is to share and learn together in the community setting."
Despite rain and technical difficulties, the crowd gathered under umbrellas, shelters, and tarps, some dripping wet, others with plastic bags over their heads.
They listened to singers and watched documentaries and films produced by Haitians for Haitians, selections designed to encourage Haitians to have pride in their country, their culture, themselves.
Cheers, giggles, and laughter erupted when the microphone was passed through the crowd and people saw and heard themselves on the big screen.
“Our job is not just to help educate them with films about the environment, their body, and their country,” says Greg Gilles, one of SAZ’s animators, “but to ask them how they feel. What do they want to change? We give them a chance to express themselves and let them know that people are listening. That’s empowerment.”
One of the guests was Cato Tholin.
The 20-year old first heard about SAZ when the group showed a film by Josh Sundquist, a paralympic ski racer, at the hospital where Ms. Tholin had her leg amputated.
The house that fell on her during the quake also killed her father.
“At first it was really hard, but SAZ helped me realize that there are people that I can talk to about this,” she says. “They have given me courage, showed me that life goes on.”
SAZ expects to reach 100,000 people in its three-month tour across the country. The group's goal is to have 260 shows in 52 locations, but they currently have funding for only 24 shows for the next six weeks. Its sponsors, which include nongovernmental organizations such as Mercy Corps and the Voila Foundation, hope to continue funding for the long-term.
“The content is 100 percent Haitian, so they are looking at themselves,” says Kyle Dietrich, who heads Mercy Corps' youth program in Haiti. “It’s inspiring, informative, and entertaining. It will help them re-imagine what is possible so they can return to some sort of normalcy.”
At the very least, it’s a welcome distraction from the mundane.
Huddled under a stoop, 22-year-old Fontus Benirandar didn’t mind that she was getting wet as an environmental documentary flashed in front of her.
“I’ve been waiting for this for two weeks,” she says. “I just wish it was going to last more than four nights.”