“Music is in us. It is in our lives. It cannot disappear. That would be like the end of life.”
– Father Cesar, Serenade for Haiti
Directed by the award-winning documentary filmmaker Owsley Brown (Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles; Music Makes a City), Serenade for Haiti (Serenad pou Ayiti) reveals a side of the country that is often misunderstood by the rest of the world. Filmed over a seven-year period that began before the earthquake of 2010, Serenade illustrates the powerful role that music, art and education can play in developing and empowering the youth of a nation. By focusing its lens on Father Cesar and his dedicated staff at Sainte Trinite Music School, this documentary reveals the burgeoning artistic side of the children of Haiti and their commitment to hope.
However, Serenade for Haiti is not merely about the film’s bursting culture and musical talent. Instead, the film is intent on Haiti’s quest to discover and express its soul. Despite the vibrancy and colour of the nation, Cesar also reminds us that ‘there is a shadow’ that follows it. Repeatedly throughout the film, we are reminded of the suffering and anguish that the Haitian people have experienced in recent years. From politically-rooted violence in the streets to the vicious earthquake of 2010, the nation has found themselves torn apart by fear and bloodshed.
However, herein lies the very heart of Serenade.
In the midst of the pain, Father Cesar and his team recognize that, by teaching the arts to their children, they find a healthy manner of creative expression. In fact, for Cesar, the arts are not merely a distraction from the country’s social challenges, but potentially the solution to them. While many children do not have the ability to express their feelings through words, they manage to reveal their hearts via song and paintbrush. In doing so, they find new hope and life through their creativity. Like a small plant shooting up from the ashes, music and the arts have become a beacon of hope for the children in the midst of suffering.
Undoubtedly, Serenade paints this creative outburst as a spiritual breakthrough for a nation looking for answers. As God establishes hope by creating all things new, so too does this expression demonstrate an echo of His image within the people. In light of this, while the arts may not ‘save one’s soul’, they certainly allow us to connect with the heartbeat of God in a manner that allows for healing and growth. Repeatedly in Scripture, we see that music is a response to and recognition of the beauty of God. It is life-affirming and demonstrates an incomprehensible comprehension of His glory that brings wholeness to our soul.
In Serenade for Haiti, we get to see the restorative nature of music first-hand within the eyes of children who have seen the depths of hurt. In the midst of their suffering, they seek beauty.
And that leads to Hope.
Serenade for Haiti is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit.