05/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Letter From Paris: Guetty Felin Calls All The Right Shots

Paris, Winter 2008

The scene opens on the soft light of daybreak glowing over the rooftops of Paris's 20th Arrondissement. A woman's soothing voice says, "Over the past several months, an unrelenting roar has been mounting across the Atlantic, resonating all the way to Paris, my adopted city for the last 20 years. Something is happening in America. Four decades have gone by since we were last summoned to come together as a nation to search for, rethink, and dream another America. Today, a voice rises above the din challenging us anew, and for the first time in a long time, I can almost call America home again."

Soon we're seeing Guetty Felin and her husband, Hervè Cohen, driving along an American highway with their two teenage sons. They are headed for Texas, where they will work for the Obama campaign and Guetty and Hervè will shoot this documentary film called Closer to The Dream. In the process, they'll be giving their sons a view of the heartland of America that most Americans -- who don't live there -- will never see. They'll also be imparting an incredible lesson in politics and bearing witness to a stunning moment of history.

A song called "Better Way" by Ben Harper is carrying them and us, the audience, along.

...What good is a man
Who won't take a stand
What good is a cynic
With no better plan
I believe in a better way...

---Ben Harper

We, as an audience, are immediately snared into the rhythm of the movie, and we are living the dream with them.


On this day after the 82nd Academy Awards, when a woman won Best Director for the first time in Oscar history, I'm nominating award-winning documentary filmmaker Guetty Felin as an International Woman of the Year.

Let me begin with her actual physical existence. As a Haitian-American, Ms. Felin was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in New York. She is married to a Frenchman, and they have lived in Paris for the most part of the last two decades, but also in the U.S. (where they now reside) and in Haiti, where Ms. Felin went to launch the country's first international film festival in July 2004. For that Jakmel Festival, she worked as key adviser but also programmed films and directed a youth-oriented film workshop during the entire duration of the festival. In the fall of 2004, Ms. Felin took the film series to Paris under the title "Haiti en Seine," in collaboration with La Mairie de Paris (Paris City Hall). The event, which also featured Haitian art exhibitions and dance, was the largest Haitian cultural gathering ever held in Paris.

Ms. Guetty speaks at least three languages -- English, French, and Creole. Her themes as an author -- community and interconnectedness -- meditate around the sometimes unbearable mystery by which our past has created our present. And a narrative voice, as in the first scene that I mentioned, resonates throughout all her work. Ms. Felin is a tireless advocate for her native country's cultural legacy and film heritage.

Ms. Felin puts her imagination, her time, and energy, and her money where her mouth is. Most recently her strong humanitarian principles called her back to Haiti after the devastating January earthquake. I'm not going to include her insightful observations about that tragedy in this piece, but to read more about that, click here.

But what Ms. Felin has done with her BelleMoon Productions LLC is to design a response and catalyst to build Haiti's future: 1. J-12.TV, a global web platform will webcast a weekly documentary series tentatively titled "Stories from the quake" or "Fault lines" which will follow the stories of quake survivors as they put the pieces of their lives back together, long after the international media has gone. 2. Ms. Felin will give some of the proceeds of film sales to four Haitian recovery efforts on an ongoing basis. These are not major NGO, but, rather, a smaller Haiti-based non-profits that have been working for development and sustainability long before this tragedy.

From her website:

....As for us filmmakers in the Haitian Diaspora who had our lenses focused on Haiti long before this tragedy, what role can we play in Haiti's recovery? What kind of films should we make? What purpose will they serve? How can we give more resonance to our stories? Who will be our audience? How can we keep Haiti from being just a media fad or a fleeting interest for well-intentioned foreign filmmakers? How can we change the ongoing narrative on Haiti? Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti the country of dirt eaters, Haitians, the ongoing victims of a bad curse etc... Who will tell the stories of the three founding members of the women's movement all perished in the quake? or the story of the entire second year class med school students aspiring to one day play an active role in the development of their country? Who will tell stories of crushed dreams and educational institutions and movements that were toppled in just 35 seconds?

It is these very questions that have prompted us at BelleMoon Productions to create J-12.TV. Simply going in and capturing some footage and editing a film will not be enough to cover the multitude of stories that will unfold in the upcoming months and years. There will be stories of abuse, but also stories of bravery and sacrifice and of hope. Families will move from tents to homes, others will leave the city for the countryside and try to start anew, couples will get married and children will be born. This time next year, Haitians will celebrate the carnival that the quake spoiled for them this year, because cathartic moments of joy are a strong part of what keeps us going as people. The series "Stories from the quake" will feature a mellifluous flow of characters from every sector of the population, those living in tents and others trying to rebuild their homes. We would like to feature characters in Port-au-Prince but as well in Leogane, Grand Goaves and Jacmel and other parts of the country that were impacted by the earthquake....

Ms. Felin is again ready to put her talent and her heart into rebuilding one of the countries she calls home.

...Reality is sharp
It cuts at me like a knife
Everyone I know
Is in the fight of their life
I believe in a better way...

---Ben Harper

And so does Guetty Felin.

For more information on Guetty Felin, Closer To The Dream, or to contribute to the work of her BelleMoon Productions and the future of Haiti, click here.

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to