First Run Features // 2005 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // August 4th, 2006
In 2004, a nation celebrated its first democratically elected president... three weeks later, he was overthrown.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a Roman Catholic priest turned politician who served two non-consecutive terms as the democratically elected president of Haiti. After first being elected in 1991, Aristide was quickly overthrown and spent three years in exile. With the aid of international pressure, Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994 and finished out the final two years of his term. The Haitian constitution did not allow him to run again in 1996, and he stepped aside as the country experienced its first ever peaceful transfer of power.
In 2000, Aristide again won the presidential election, this time winning a staggering 91.8 percent of the vote. The Clinton administration denounced the elections as rigged, and worked with the European Union to block a $440 million loan to the country. Without that loan, conditions in Haiti quickly worsened. The 2003 elections were canceled and, after many legislators' terms expired, Aristide began governing by decree. His opponents began calling for his resignation, and armed militants seized most of Northern Haiti. In February 2004 this rebel force began its march on Port-au-Prince, the country's capital.
On the morning of February 29, 2004, Aristide fled the country. While all agree that Aristide was flown on a United States airplane to the Central African Republic, he claims that he was forcefully abducted by U.S. forces and detained by French soldiers. United States officials, including Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, claim that Aristide had resigned voluntarily.
Nicolas Rossier's film, Aristide and the Endless Revolution, investigates the events leading up to Aristide's removal from power. In interviews, Aristide (who is currently living in exile in South Africa) blames much of Haiti's problems on the lack of international aid, and America's reckless support for Haitian rebel groups. In the film these claims are supported by Congresswoman Maxine Walters, linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, as well as actor Danny Glover.
Though these three are all well-known and outspoken individuals, they are also polarizing figures. Whether justified or not, all three are reliable critics of United States foreign policy, and their inclusion here leads to wonder why Rossier could not find more neutral individuals to state the case against America's intervention. Glover's participation is particularly odd. I know he is politically active, but he is first and foremost an actor. Any serious, sober and impartial documentary would never have approached Glover to share his thoughts on U.S. foreign policy.
However, it quickly becomes clear that Aristide and the Endless Revolution is not neutral. The film does not strive to educate its viewers on Aristide's terms in office, nor the dire economic conditions in Haiti. Instead it looks to indict the United States and France for meddling with Haiti's government while simultaneously cutting off aid. While these countries may certainly be culpable in furthering Haiti's suffering, there is nowhere near equal time given to their representatives to defend their actions. To be fair, Rossier includes an interview with Roger Noriega, America's Assistant Secretary of State. Noriega strongly denies that the U.S. interfered with Haiti's sovereignty, but his brief comments will surely get lost among the series of chastising talking heads.
In the film, much is made of the 90 million francs Haiti paid to France over 200 years ago to buy its independence. In his second term, Aristide launched a major publicity campaign demanding France make $21 billion in reparations. Several interviewees express their support for Aristide's campaign, and much time is spent demonizing France's original occupation of Haiti. However, no one is included to explain that providing $21 billion to a regime that is considered corrupt by many may not solve the country's problems (the oil boom certainly hasn't benefited the citizenry of Middle Eastern countries). Additionally, no one mentions that there was no chance that France would ever grant those reparations (a French representative makes it very clear that France would never pay), and as such Aristide's wasting of precious time and resources to lobby for them was a complete waste of time.
Those who enjoy criticizing U.S. foreign policy will find much to champion in this film. However, these same viewers will find little to educate, enlighten or challenge them here. Those who desire a serious, well-balanced investigation on the subject before casting condemnation will crave a more balanced viewpoint.
I am not sure if First Run Features inherited a bad print, or they simply provided a horrible transfer onto DVD, but this is a very ugly film. Most of it was shot in video and it looks blurry and washed out, like a cable access production. The poor production values not only affect viewing pleasure, but undermine the movie's credibility. There are many brazen accusations made in Aristide and the Endless Revolution, and they deserve to be discussed. Sadly, this movie does little to further that conversation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus interview with Jean-Bertrande Aristide
* Update on Haiti's Upcoming 2006 Elections
* Official Site