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The Screening Room

Filmmaker: I want to give the world a different view of Haiti

By Grace Wong for CNN
Raoul Peck's film, "Moloch Tropical," is about a despotic president's final day in power.
Raoul Peck's film, "Moloch Tropical," is about a despotic president's final day in power.
  • Raoul Peck says he wants to show a side of Haiti that goes beyond devastation
  • His latest film, "Moloch Tropical," is a fable about the corrupting force of power
  • Haitian-born director and former minister of culture says film will play a role in Haiti's future

(CNN) -- Haiti's most famous filmmaker says he's uncomfortable that his earthquake-ravaged country has become just a victim in the eyes of the world.

And he hopes his new film, "Moloch Tropical," which just screened at the Berlin Film Festival, will help change that.

Director Raoul Peck, who was also once the country's culture minister, says he knows the world is watching -- and thinking -- about his native country now, following the January 12 earthquake that killed thousands and left the capital city of Port-au-Prince in ruins.

Even though he's taking advantage of the world's attention, he wishes there could be a deeper understanding of his country, a more nuanced view of the Caribbean nation.

"It's very uncomfortable to be in a place of a victim in the eyes of the rest of the world," Peck told CNN in Berlin. "Showing 'Moloch Tropical' shows another side of Haiti."

He said that it was important for him to be in Berlin to "give a different view of what people might think of Haiti."

That's especially true when the only information being spread about Haiti is from news snippets in the wake of catastrophe, he said.

It's very difficult "for anyone else to understand that this is a normal country -- with its problems, with its moments of happiness. It's a mixture of all of these," Peck said.

Catastrophes trigger the world's emotion and solidarity, but "when [they're] not in the news anymore, things don't get the same support," he told CNN.

"My fear is that when the lights go out that nobody will still be at their side."

Relief funds were raised for the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, at the recent screening of the film.

Shot on location in northern Haiti, "Moloch Tropical" is a "political marker" about power in Haiti over the last half-century, he said.

It chronicles a despotic president's final day in office. Peck called it a fable about what happens to democratically-elected leaders after they assume power.

He said he hopes the film will shine a light "on the struggles for democracy that have been burning" in Haiti for the past three and a half decades.

Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier declared himself president for life in 1964 and ruled Haiti as a dictator until his death. Since then, successive governments have been marred by instability, overthrown and deposed by military coups a number of times.

In the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake, everybody is trying to do whatever they can to help, Peck said.

"I'm active as a filmmaker. I'm active as a person of culture, but I'm active as well as a citizen," said Peck, who returned to Haiti a few days after the earthquake struck.

Peck has put Haiti on the international film map. His 1993 movie "The Man by the Shore" was the first Haitian movie to be released in U.S. theaters and was the first film from the Caribbean to compete for the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.

He's lived around the world, including in France, Germany, Zaire and the United States, but served as Haiti's minister of culture for a brief period in the late 1990s.

His decision to enter politics was part of a collective effort in 1996 among a group of like-minded individuals who wanted to institute much-needed reforms in the country, Peck told CNN.

That government experience is one he hopes will aid in the rebuilding effort.

Peck said he wants to bring together the many individuals he's been involved with in politics and civil society over the years to "improve communication, coordination."

"What I know I can do is to bring those wheels together and to try to build something stronger," said Peck.

Like for many others, the devastating earthquake took a personal toll on the filmmaker. He lost friends as well as an uncle and a cousin.

There is a long road ahead for Haitians, he said, and it will take a united effort to rebuild the ravaged country.

"I hope that we will be able to forge a united Haiti to be able to speak with one voice and that our voices are heard in this huge reconstruction that we will have to face."

But he also expressed optimism that film would help bring people together and play an important role in Haiti's future.

Haiti has a very "vivid" cultural life and there are many cinematic projects going on, he said.

"Haiti is not a world aside, a world apart," Peck said. "Culture and imaginations have always been part of our rebirth."