Hot Docs 2023: Our Review of ‘Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters’

Posted in Hot Docs 2023 by - May 05, 2023
Hot Docs 2023: Our Review of ‘Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters’

There’s a few scholarly papers to inform their readers that Carnivals all over the Americas have deeper meanings. Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti in Six Chapters shows us the parades instead of the singular parade than what we have in Toronto. It also takes its time to show how each troupe reenacts sketches that have deeper meanings. The black body paint, for example, signifies the black clothing that former slaves wore while planning their eventual revolution against the French empire. It also tells history in its own way, specifically the foreign and homegrown entities that Haitians went up against.

Kanaval moves between the present’s vibrant colours to black and white archive footage, the latter showing the West’s vilification of Haiti. This vilification takes place a century after Haiti fought for its independence against France, as both French cinema and Hollywood warped concepts like voodoo and zombies to present Haitians and all Black people as backward. What the documentary does is present Haiti’s version of those concepts before it shows the West’s degraded version so it doesn’t seem like Haiti’s defending itself. There’s a definitive air to the way it presents its facts which surprisingly goes well with its subjectivity.

The subjectivity within Haitian history reflects that of all of history and with that, Kanaval reflects a refreshing honesty. That honesty comes with the way Kanaval deals with the Duvalier dynasty, as one of the narrators basically says that Papa Doc was good for the country until he wasn’t. The documentary then shows colour archives of how Kanaval dealt with the Duvaliers’ regime. History, as one of the narrators, reverberates through these festivals and through the bodies of people today. And Kanaval depicts its subjects beautifully, these subjects being able to feel their pain and express it through art.

  • Release Date: 5/6/2023
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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