On Oct. 7, the Boston Foundation, in conjunction with the Haiti Development Institute, screened “Father Joseph.” The documentary was directed by Jeff Kaufman, whose previous film, “The State of Marriage,” was in last year’s GlobeDocs Film Festival.
“Father Joseph” is about a Haitian priest who organized the isolated, rural community of Fondwa to establish a micro-credit bank for the poor, a K-14 school, an orphanage, a clean-water project, a reforestation program, a health clinic, a radio station, a home-construction effort, and a university. Despite sometimes murderous opposition, all these projects thrived. Then the 2010 earthquake leveled it all.
So Father Joseph rallied his community and they rebuilt it.
Father Joseph was expected to appear at the screening, but couldn’t make it. Hurricane Matthew had laid waste to much of his work, and he had returned to Haiti to rebuild again.
On the phone from Vermont, Kaufman talked about “Father Joseph.”
Q. How bad was the damage?
A. It’s really tragic. Fondwa was the epicenter of the earthquake in 2010 and now it got devastatingly hit by the hurricane. People lost their homes, their crops, and their animals. Their lives are temporarily ruined, but fortunately none were lost.
Q. Is Father Joseph getting discouraged?
A. If he is daunted, he doesn’t show it. He always says, don’t ever stop. When there are crises around you and you’re a community leader you don’t have time for yourself.
Q. For a small country Haiti has had more than its share of disasters, natural and manmade. Why is that?
A. It’s a combination of things. One of the things we’d like the film to do is show that it really isn’t a cursed country. Certainly it has horrible challenges. But there is a spirit in the country. People work incredibly hard. And with the right kind of support from outside people can move forward. Lives can change.
Q. What can people do about it?
A.A number of people associated with the film have gotten together to support Father Joseph’s institutions and created a way to make donations directly to him and his efforts to rebuild after the hurricane. If people go to www.raisinghaiti.org they can find out about long-term programs where the money all goes straight to Father Joseph, no overhead. All will go to rebuilding.
Q. I don’t recall Haiti being mentioned during the second presidential debate. Is there anything voters in the coming election can do to help the situation?
A. Actually, there was a mention, about two seconds’ worth. But voters should support a candidate with a foreign policy that engages other countries and tries to understand their cultural and historical backgrounds.
Elections come and go, but our difficult relations with Haiti remain. I hope that the film will be a fascinating ride for people to watch but also connect them not just to the challenges of Haiti but the potential of Haiti and a sense of the people. It connects to American issues, too — the empowerment of women, the struggle to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, faith in action and not just in words. All these things speak to America as much as to Haiti.
“Father Joseph” is available on DVD and VOD.
Interview was condensed and edited.