Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Making of Black Dawn

Vermont artists and activists Doreen Kraft and Robin Lloyd will screen their 1978 animated film Black Dawn at Champlain College on Wed, July 12 at 5:30 p.m, along with a discussion and showing of original Haitian paintings featured in the work. The following article is from Black Dawn: a Study Guide on Haiti by Greg Guma and Robin Lloyd
In her book, Divine Horseman, American artist and filmmaker Maya Deren described her 1947 trip to Haiti from the perspective of a passionate convert to voodoo. She had visited the Caribbean country to make a film on dance, but once there found that dance in Haiti had to be seen not as an isolated art, but as a central aspect of religious ritual. After attending many voodoo ceremonies, she was eventually "possessed" by the Goddess Erzulie, her camera dropping to her side as she responded to powerful rhythms and felt the "loa" enter her body.
       Almost 30 years later, two other filmmakers, Robin Lloyd and Doreen Kraft, followed in Maya Deren's footsteps and lived in a voodoo temple while developing their own perceptions of Haiti. They didn't experience possession, but they did fall under the spell of Haitian culture. For many of the people they met, the gods were part of everyday experience, the subject of struggle and dreams. Religion was not dogma to these Haitians, it was a lifelong initiation into "the mysteries." 
      The filmmakers also visited art galleries and filmed the painted buses that clog the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince. From this dual interest -- in art and religion -- the film Black Dawn emerged.     

       They returned the next winter with a small grant, the filmscript, and several suitcases full of paint and paper. Francine Murat, director of the Centre d'art, introduced them to artists whose styles or themes were appropriate for the film concept. Some of these artists were among the most skilled in Haiti, others were unknowns. Once the content of a scene was agreed upon, the hard work began: how to explain to artists who had never "animated" before that a number of layers of paper were required to properly animate characters. The Queen would have to move behind a bush, Toussaint would need three heads, each looking in a different direction. All of this was conveyed in French, or sometimes translated into Creole.
      One of the factors that assisted them in their task is the widespread acceptance among Haitian artists of voodoo as a cultural force. Voodoo is called animism in religion textbooks -- a belief system where inanimate objects are imbued with living souls. The word comes from the root word "anima": to breathe life into. And what is film animation but infusing the inanimate with life! The artists quickly began to share with the filmmakers a profound artistic sympathy and excitement for the film project.
      They returned to Vermont with background paintings and characters not yet assembled, just arms, legs and heads scattered across white sheets. They set up a studio and bought a custom-built animation stand modified to handle large paintings. American artists helped in creating transition scenes and special effects. Two Haitian artists obtained visas and worked in the Vermont studio. Haitian writers, musicians and a radio announcer in Montreal gave assistance during the final stages.
      Black Dawn was first screened at the Gala Exhibition of Haitian Art at the Brooklyn Museum in the fall of 1978.

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