A Haitian priest, a Vineyard filmmaker, and a city in ruins

A Haitian priest, a Vineyard filmmaker, and a city in ruins

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Filmmaker Victoria Campbell screens her latest film at the M.V. Film Center on Tuesday.

A must-see movie, “Monsieur Le President,” will be screened at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven at 7:30 pm on August 12.

In January 2010, immediately following the 7-point earthquake in Haiti, Tisbury native Victoria Campbell, an actress and documentary filmmaker, received a phone call from her dad. He told her to fly down to the devastated island, that arriving health workers from around the world required French-speakers to translate their patients’ needs.

When she was 16, Victoria spent a full year with a French family in a small village outside of Avignon, and she was under strict orders not to speak a word of English.

The filmmaker crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. She wore a nun’s habit because authorities, crazed by throngs of foreigners at the border, turned back nearly everyone. The faux nun found a hospital in Port-au-Prince where she was immediately put to work cleaning wounds and inserting catheters.

In the beginning, Victoria had no thought of making a movie, but a camera constantly rolled “tape” in her hands, a compulsive trait of hers ever since she filmed her 2009 documentary “House of Bones,” about the messy emotions stirred up by the sale of her family’s grand old summer house in West Chop.

Victoria’s thoughtful monologue runs through “Monsieur” and, frankly, she had this reporter at, well, not exactly “hello,” but only minutes into the narrative with a stunning description of the moment when aid workers were finally admitted into the country, and the lens of clarity refocuses. Against footage of downed buildings, human suffering on an epic scale, and a child with a bandaged arm being lifted into an ambulance, Victoria speaks of before and after, of the contrast with “that time when everyone cracked wide open in those first four days when black and white, foreigner and Haitian, doctor and patient were all melded together before time closes like a fist, and we’re again reminded of where we stand on the chain of life.”

And then she meets Gaston, a voodoo priest and community organizer seared with a febrile urge to restore his parish. Like magic, he throws up a medical clinic staffed with a doctor and two nurses and, from that point forward, thousands of patients receive free medical care and prescriptions. His larger aim is to build a school, and no one enters his sphere without Gaston — smiling, charming, gallant — putting each to work moving rubble, then recycling that same rubble. Nothing is ever wasted in Haiti.

Victoria returns many times to Haiti to film Gaston, committed to the man’s vision. She holds fundraisers on the Island and in New York where another admirer of Gaston’s, an Italian reporter working in the States, solicits donations from abroad.

And then everything takes a turn to the sinister.

For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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