The Haitian goat Britis proves an excellent mute guide at the Grand Cimetière in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, squeezing through narrow passageways as he inquisitively scurries from crypt to crypt.

Neil Young
Young is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: January 15, 2019

A young Haitian named Britis shot one of 2018’s most remarkable documentaries, but his stunning camerawork did not result in him joining any cinematographers guilds – such organisations tending to exclude four-legged members. Britis is a goat. In the film he visits and explores the Grand Cimetière of Port-au-Prince, Haiti – permanent home to many of his species as well as numerous humans, both dead and living.

Britis was fitted with a harness and a GoPro camera and was thus able to capture for posterity his wanderings through the rubble-strewn graveyard. His services were employed for just a single day of shooting by a trio of artists – Steevens Simeon, from Haiti, and a brace of Brazilians, Jefferson Kielwagen and Marcos Serafim – during the 5th ‘Ghetto Biennale’ in December 2017– a down-to-earth counterpart of the decidedly grand and relatively opulent Venice Biennale.

The resulting footage was then edited down into a fifteen-minute film entitled Gede Vizyon, which screened during 2018 at a scattering of exhibitions and small/medium film-festivals in the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, Brazil, Israel, Serbia and Haiti. But it seems to have flown under the radar of the biggest and most prestigious documentary/experimental festivals.

This is surprising, given that Gede Vizyon‘s originality, its visual delights, and arresting balance between extreme simplicity and underlying complexity are sufficient to warrant inclusion in any serious list of the 2018’s most notable premieres of any length.

Voodoo references

A word about the title – which is, like all of the «dialogue» heard in the film, Haitian Creole. The vizyon part is self-explanatory; gede is somewhat trickier, the gede (also known as Guédé or Ghede) being the spirits responsible for death and fertility in Haitian vodou (a.k.a. voodoo), and whose domains logically include burial places such as the sprawling hillside Grand Cimetière.

The gede dominate two of the film’s three audio elements: as well as the diegetic, live-recorded sound from the GoPro (which includes Britis’ occasional braying and the scrambling of his hooves on the rocky terrain), we hear incantations and poems performed by Jean-Daniel Lafontant, a houngan (vodou priest) from the Nah-Ri-Veh temple (which played host to one of the Biennale’s opening-night parties, reportedly an «epic night.»)

Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die (1973).

These are mixed with haunting hymns sung a capella by Evelyne Thelus, a.k.a. Mambo Jacqueline, herself a high priestess of the religion: «Legba is at the gate. Legba’s oath. It’s he who carries the flag that shields the spirits from the sun.»

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