Recently I walked out of When the Drum is Beating, a new Haiti doc that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. I fumed on Twitter but later that night I dropped in on the after-party at a hotel bar for the doc’s stars, visiting members of a 62-year-old orchestra from Cap-Haïtien, the Septentrional. By Flatbush, Brooklyn standards the party would’ve been a flop but as far as artsy-intellectual Manhattan gatherings go, it wasn’t too bad either. “There’re a lot of newcomers to Haiti here tonight,” was how one enthusiastic Haitian mingler described the crowd. Makes sense. Much of the doc came across like it was made for a liberal sensibility that’s shocked-just-shocked by deprivation.
When the Drum is Beating is about the band and the history of Haiti from slavery through the 2010 earthquake. That’s a lot, too much, and it shows. Thank God then for the archival footage (rare stuff, to hear a 1915 Marine narrating the US’s arrival), some poignant interviews and the festival scenes. As a concert-goer says during fet chanpet, “When Septen plays I’m rich, when they stop I’m poor.”