Gessica Généus (Port-au-Prince, 1985) is a star in her homeland, Haiti. At 36 years old, the director, screenwriter, actress and singer has managed to make her latest film, Freda, participate in 2021 in the section A certain look from the Cannes Festival. The feature film tells the story of the protagonist and her family’s survival in Haiti, as well as the migration dilemma, class differences due to skin color, and the whitening that black women undergo. The story is based in part on his experiences: Généus also grew up in a popular neighborhood in the capital, Port-au-Prince, with his mother and siblings, and suffered financial difficulties during childhood.
Freda It is a tribute to the women who struggle and decide to stay in their land to try to fulfill their dreams in a turbulent country like Haiti. Filmed on this island and in the Creole language, it has been awarded twice by the Namur Film Festival. In addition, it won the second prize for the best feature film of the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), recently held in the capital of Burkina Faso, since the contest is open not only to African cinema but also to works made by the diaspora . Among the participating countries, the organizers include Haiti, while the majority of its population is Afro-descendant.
Question: What does it mean to you to participate in FESPACO?
Answer: Freda it could not be presented anywhere other than FESPACO. It is one of the world cinema events and it is here that all African filmmakers meet. For me, it is a consecration. I feel that Ouagadougou is my home, I have my place here even though I am on the other side of the world from Haiti. The only difference between us is geographic and the Creole language.
P: Why did you choose to address the migration dilemma in your first feature film?
R: There is a strong migration in Haiti. Many people leaving the country, but there are 12 million who are still there. The idea that those who stay don’t fight is a misperception. Not to focus on the people who say: this is my country and I am going to fight for it, it is to give the image that people abandon and do not fight.
P: How much truth is there in the tape about how the people of Haiti live?
R: The film shows the situation of the majority of the population. This is how I grew up, with an aunt like Freda. I reproduce what I know and wanted to see it on the screen.
P: Why does it include real images of demonstrations in Haiti?
R: The youth protests took place in 2018 because $ 4 billion had disappeared. It’s a lot of money not to know where it is. I was at those protests and I wanted to document it so that it was not said that the youth had not mobilized, even though they were being killed and tear gas was fired. Not enough is documented in Haiti and each generation thinks they are the first to speak out, but many have fought before.
Women no longer expect to be given anything, they want to exist
P: What similarities does it have to Africa?
R: We fight the same fight. Our heart is in Africa, it is our home, particularly the west of the continent because from here is where they took us from to take us to the Caribbean.
P: Why did you choose actress Néhémie Bastien for Freda to play Freda, even though she had never had a role in a feature film?
R: I had to play the role of Freda, however writing the play I realized that I was not the right person. In Haiti, as there is not a large film industry, there are not many actresses available. He had seen some theater performers, but they were not what he was looking for. Then I went to a theater festival and I met Freda (laughs), well, I met Bastien. And with Jeannette (Freda’s mother) the same thing happened to me. I was in my office and I knew it was her, I saw it in her face, a woman full of something inexplicable. I said, ‘Come on, let’s do a casting.’ She didn’t even know what that was and she couldn’t stop laughing, she didn’t understand.
P: Also in the movie he laughs and he does it in dramatic scenes.
R: Yes, when she’s nervous, she laughs. In Haiti we are like that. When Jeannette is in an emotionally awkward situation, she laughs. It is important to show people who live in Haiti that they are not in the news, that they tend to teach only part of us. This movie is our story told by ourselves.
P: The film participated in the Cannes Festival, with great repercussion in the media. Do you think you can become a benchmark for young talents in your country?
R: Yes. Many people are surprised that a Haitian film in the Creole language is coming to Cannes. Its the first time. Although it is complex to make a movie there. In a context like Haiti, where there is very little money, films have to come out of the gut. There are many things in my life that I could have counted on FredaBut it had to be visceral. He told me: ‘If I don’t count this, I’m not going to survive.’ That feeling is what allows you to continue when you are shooting and everything gets complicated: they deny you financing or they excuse themselves with the fact that the script is not good enough. Every time they answered me no, I thought: ‘I see my movie and I am going to fight for it to exist.’ The funny thing is that the same people who had read the script are now surprised when they see it.
I’m already working on my next film, a little more complex, about transvestites and prostitutes. In it I question the morality of Haitians and homophobia
P: Is it more complicated for a woman?
R: Yes, although things are changing. We are taking the place that belongs to us, I don’t think they will give us anything. Women no longer expect to be given anything, they want to exist. In privacy, with the family, we were already vindicating ourselves; now we do it before the eyes of the world and all those who thought it was not possible. Why hide? Why accept an imposed silence? Why hide our battles? There are many things that we did before, but they were not recognized.
P: You are a singer, an actress, and this is your first experience as a director in a feature film. Are you going to continue directing?
R: Yes, the cinema is the means of expression where I feel most comfortable. I’m already working on my next film, a little more complex, about transvestites and prostitutes. In it, I question the morality of Haitians and the homophobia that sometimes even leads to death, in Haiti and in other countries. I want to understand this problem. For five years we had a president who I was openly transvestite [por Michel Martelly], He dressed as a woman and spoke many obscenities. And we choose it. I am looking forward to exploring this.
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