This Friday, I went to see the new Danish documentary, “Ghosts of Cité Soleil“, by Asger Leth, son of famed Danish film director, Jørgen Leth. The film is a documentary about the gangs of the slum town called Cité Soleil on the outskirts of the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince.
These heavily-armed street thugs are called the ‘Chimeres’ in French which roughly translates as ‘ghosts’ and it was through the raw force provided by these gangs that former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide sought to maintain his rule until the riots in February of 2004 forced him to flee the country.
The film follows two brothers, Bily and 2pac, who are also leaders of rival branches of the Chimere, through their daily lives up until the riots which also threaten to pull their lives apart. It is absolutely incredible to see how closely Leth has been allowed to depict the gang leaders and their surroundings, and how they are extremely honest with him and the camera throughout.
It is hard to believe that it is a documentary considering the action-pace and the military-grade weaponry that they show off. The motion of the camera feels very much like a person’s point of view, moving back and forth, being distracted and surprised. And the editor has done a marvellous job of connecting these frayed images into a coherent and fast-moving whole.
The film reminded me a fair bit of the film “City of God” – a fictitious film which similarly describes the everyday gang life and history of a Rio de Janeiro slum district called Ciudade de Deus. Interestingly, the two directors behind that film had made a documentary about gang violence in Rio previous to filming the fictitious piece, connecting the fiction with reality more closely than most people can appreciate.
“Ghosts of Cité Soleil” makes much the same connection, as you are constantly reminded of all those various Hollywood action films with ever-so cleverly coreographed violence – the only difference here is: This one is real.