Coming on the heels of the announcement that popular singer-turned-politician Michel Martelly will be Haiti’s next president, the documentary ‘When the Drum is Beating’ could not be more timely. The documentary premieres at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
The 20-member band Septentrional has been making music for 62 years as Haiti’s most celebrated big band. This inspirational documentary charts the history of Haiti from its triumphant independence from French colonialism to 2010’s devastating earthquake—all set to the vibrant music of Haitian-Caribbean jazz fusion band Septentrional and punctuated with its members’ personal memories. Featuring a wealth of live rehearsal and performance footage, When the Drum Is Beating is a poignant and high-energy story of resilience.
Interview with Director: Whitney Dow
VIMOOZ: What led you to make a documentary on this subject?
WD: I made a film in Haiti in 2005 on democracy, Unfinished Country, defining Haiti’s problem and the crisis at that time. I wanted to make a film on things that worked in Haiti.
VIMOOZ: How long did the film take to make?
WD: It was started in 2006, so it took five years to make. Not full time, but starting and stopping.
VIMOOZ: What kind of research did you do in Haiti prior to making the film?
WD: I spent a lot of time there, from the previous film, and did a lot of reading.
VIMOOZ: How does working on TV documentary and feature documentaries differ?
WD: Most of my stuff has been for PBS. I try not to think about them as two separate things; they have similar structural elements. At PBS, I was allowed a lot of creative latitude. But this was definitely a different experience, working on my own film.
VIMOOZ: How did you meet Septentrional?
WD: I met them on set of Unifnished Country for PBS, we were introduced by the producers. The inspiration for this film came from them.
VIMOOZ: Has the film been shown in Haiti? What was the response?
WD: No– we’re hoping to show it this summer, at band’s anniversary concert. And the band will see it at Tribeca.
VIMOOZ: What was your experience like filming in a different country?
WD: There was the challenge of most locations that have no electricity– you have to use a generator. There’s not a lot of production infrastructure, so I had to bring a lot of equipment for the concert scenes. On the flip side, people in Haiti are nicer than people in the US. The fact that we were making a film on their country at first made them mad, because they figured the film was about poverty, but when they learned more about the film, they were supportive. It’s about something good, something that works in the country.The context of a country isn’t just the place where the narrative takes place. I wanted to show that the political affinity doesn’t define the people. Outside people view the tough conditions in Haiti as being the main narrative of the country, but it’s not.
VIMOOZ: Have you been to Tribeca before? How do you feel about your film being at Tribeca?
WD: I was at Tribeca as a producer, for Toots. I am very happy to be here and, as a New Yorker, to have my film premiere at Tribeca.
VIMOOZ: Which other festivals is the film going to?
WD: It’s going to Hot Docs, and a couple others are being talked about, but nothing final.
VIMOOZ: Any new projects?
WD: I’m producing a project called Undocumented, and working on another called The Whites Only, as director.