Every month, Guernica’s multimedia editor, Mary Wang, selects a new documentary as part of our partnership with Social Impact Media Awards (SIMA). These works were produced by filmmakers around the globe, but are united in their commitment to advancing social justice through compelling narratives and captivating imagery.
It’s 2015. Three years after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, only 1% of the $2.42 billion dollars of aid has reached the country, while many are still living in tents, far from NGO and government support. Now, a hurricane is on its way. Amidst growing social unrest and worsening living conditions, a group of young Haitians decides to pick up their smartphones and start documenting the Haiti that is rarely seen—or allowed to be seen—in the media. Noise Runs (2015) follows these newly-minted editors and journalists as they set up a free Haitian Creole newspaper in a country where most news is printed in French, the language of the elite. This radical publication, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye (Noise Travels, News Spreads), is their way to help democratize information among the local population. Their stories are as spectacular as their growing realization that, despite their lack of resources, they’re becoming storytellers in their own right.
Below is a brief Q&A conducted by SIMA with the movie’s directors, Ashley Panzera and Kim Borba.
SIMA: What motivated you to make your film?
Ashley Panzera and Kim Borba: There is a strong tradition in Haiti called kombit, the action of communities coming together in solidarity to create change. Kim had done development work in Haiti and was discouraged by the legacy of dependency created by large aid organizations that were not working with Haitians to build their country. Instead of using this top-down model, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye empowers people by not only reporting the news to the unrepresented, but also sparking actual, sustainable change within their own community. In the way that they work, they exemplify the spirit of kombit, and it was their relentless pursuit of that ideal that inspired us. In making this film, we wanted to challenge the stigmas of poverty and victimhood, demonstrating that real, lasting change from the bottom up in Haiti was not only possible, but necessary.
SIMA: Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution and exhibition efforts?
Ashley Panzera and Kim Borba: Doing a film in a foreign country can be challenging. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult to understand not just what people are saying, but what people mean. Luckily, we had some amazing translators on our team to help us sort through the poetic, often metaphoric language our subjects used, to get to the “meat” of what they were saying.
We had concerns about the safety of our subjects, and were careful to limit the dangers to which they might be exposed for publicizing their work. One notable choice was to not use wide, exterior shots of the Bri Kouri house, as this would make it easy for viewers to recognize where it is located in Port-au-Prince. Often times, we were in areas that are customarily off-limits to foreign media, either because of safety issues or due to lack of trust in foreign media among the communities in which Bri Kouri works. In terms of safety, we always felt we were in good hands with our producer, Jeremy.
But in terms of the lack of trust, we understood that it came from a long history of Haitian communities being depicted as victims in international news or aid organizations’ fundraising. We felt a deep responsibility to offer an accurate picture of the situation in Haiti without creating what some call “poverty porn,” and we were vigilant about bringing the focus to capable, empowered people doing something about the situation and offering hope.
SIMA is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt arts organization. It exists to advance global awareness, social justice, human rights, and education by supporting filmmakers on the front-lines of social change. SIMA started as the first and only international media competition honoring achievements in the creative, human rights, and humanitarian fields. Today, SIMA is the most renowned global curator in the social impact space, serving independent film, academic, and global social justice industries around the world. The organization now consists of several programs, including SIMA Classroom, SIMA RAMA, and SIMAx, which all have the purpose of effecting change through social impact cinema.