Power and politics are always fodder for conversation in America, and that’s especially true in the current presidential election year. But Raoul Peck hopes his filmmaking can help inspire Americans to look beyond their own politics and cultivate a more global perspective.
Peck is the director of “Moloch Tropical,’’ a visually arresting 2009 film about a democratically elected president in Haiti who wakes up one day to find his country in turmoil. That film will get its Boston premiere this week when Peck is spotlighted in a two-day event titled “Visionary Filmmaker: Raoul Peck’’ at the Paramount Center. The event is sponsored by Emerson College in collaboration with the Cultural Service of the French Consulate in Boston and Gallery Basquiat, a Boston artists collective.
“ ‘Moloch Tropical’ is a metaphor bigger than Haitian politics. It’s a satirical view of power,’’ says Peck over the telephone from his native Port au Prince, Haiti, where he is currently shooting a documentary. “The film has screened around the world - Italy, Sweden, Australia - and each time it’s brought about a discussion of local politics. Haiti has molded my own politics, but I felt totally at ease to take on the larger subject of power and how it functions. [The Boston screening] will give the audience an opportunity to see what’s happening elsewhere and to not see [the United States] as the center of the world.’’
Peck’s visit to Boston will be his first orchestrated public appearance here in 15 years (he paid private visits to his friend, the late Howard Zinn). He will be on hand to introduce a March 15 screening of “Moloch Tropical’’ at 7:30 p.m., followed by a discussion with the audience. He will also host a pre-release book signing at the Paramount Center on March 16 from 2-4 p.m. for “Stolen Images: Lumumba and the Early Films of Raoul Peck’’ (Seven Stories Press), due out April 10. The book includes screenplays and images from four of the director’s major films: the 1992 documentary “Lumumba: Death of Prophet’’ and the 2000 feature film “Lumumba’’; Peck’s first feature, “Haitian Corner’’ (1988), about a Haitian immigrant in New York; and “The Man on the Shore’’ (1993), set during Haiti’s “Papa Doc’’ Duvalier regime. “Man on the Shore’’ is said to be the first Haitian film ever to be screened in theaters in the United States and the first Caribbean film ever entered into competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The book signing will be followed at 6 p.m. by the screening of a 35mm print of “Lumumba,’’ Peck’s best-known film, about the life and assassination in 1961 of Republic of Congo prime minister Patrice Lumumba.
To travel to Boston, Peck, 58, will interrupt the filming of his documentary, which has the working title “Billions for Restoration,’’ about the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Peck, who served as the minister of culture of the Republic of Haiti between 1996 and 1997, examines Haiti’s failure to rebuild completely, despite billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. He says he’s looking forward to discussing this work-in-progress at the Emerson event, which is expected to include many members of Boston’s Haitian community. The new documentary, he says, “is a critical observation of the reconstruction process from the inside. It’s a political roller coaster. The drama has been a good thing for the film but bad for the country.’’
Peck’s personal and professional journey has taken him from his native Haiti to Berlin University. He then worked as a taxi driver, journalist, and photographer in New York before earning a film degree in 1988 from the German Film and Television Academy in West Berlin. Currently living in Paris, Peck is also known for another contribution to world cinema: the 2005 HBO feature “Sometimes in April,’’ about the Rwandan genocide. “It was the first time HBO did a foreign production. It was a tremendous risk they took with me to do a film about the genocide and to shoot it in Rwanda,’’ he says.
Peck’s friend and fellow filmmaker Claire Andrade-Watkins, associate professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College, was instrumental in organizing Peck’s visit to Boston, which boasts the third largest Haitian population in the country after New York and Miami.
Andrade-Watkins says she shares Peck’s commitment to global cinema as a way to connect disenfranchised cultures and create “a sustainable legacy of memory-history of the Africana diaspora.’’ Andrade-Watkins’s SPIA Media handled the 2001 opening of “Lumumba’’ at the Kendall Square Cinema.
“I care about the people whose story this is,’’ she says of Peck’s work. “It’s not a red carpet event. This is about a community that needs us.’’
Peck says he hopes his visit promotes an “international discussion.’’
“Haiti is just one and a half hours from Miami,’’ he notes. “There are 10 million people in Haiti; that’s like a big city. But it still has not been able to solve the problems of a big city.’’
For more information, go to www.emerson.edu.