Documenting the mysterious martial art of Haitian machete fencing through the story and practice of one man.
Our team recently completed filming of Papa Machete, a character-driven short film that explores the noble, esoteric, and slowly vanishing martial art of Haitian machete fencing, and the practice of one man, master fencer Alfred Avril, who is working to keep it alive.
Mr. Avril is a subsistence farmer living in Haiti, who garners an extremely modest side income teaching traditional Haitian fencing. Despite the respect his martial-arts mastery earns him in his small community, he and his family continue to live under conditions of acute poverty.
Our footage captures an aspect of Haitian life and culture rarely seen, showing the deeply spiritual significance of an art form that is too easily misunderstood. Through this project, we’ve been able to document an elegant yet functional martial-arts system that is largely unknown to the world at large, and the broader social context within which it serves to foster continuity with the past.
Why this is important
Often, when people think about about Haiti, they focus only on political turmoil, natural disaster or extreme poverty. In the scramble to address the dire needs of its people, the positive things that Haiti has to share with the world are too often ignored. We believe that a false perception of Haiti as a country lacking in "cultural capital" is part of what keeps it impoverished, and that any path toward alleviating Haiti’s material poverty must include highlighting its cultural richness. It is our hope that Papa Machete will bring much deserved attention to Haitian martial arts as a vital piece of a thriving national culture.
Up until this point, our project has been self-funded, with additional donations from family and friends. We now find ourselves just short of the funding needed to complete post-production, for sound design and color correction to truly transform our footage into a cinematic success.
Beyond this, we feel responsible to be of help to Mr. Avril in a substantial, material way, as he struggles to preserve his practice. After being welcomed into his home and community, it became clear to us that a huge part of the challenge Mr. Avril faces in keeping the tradition of Haitian fencing alive comes from the fact that he lives in such a tenuous situation. In particular, Mr. Avril’s tiny house is listing noticeably to the side, and will soon collapse. This house is in any event so small that his children and grandchildren must sleep in a dilapidated tent left over from the 2010 earthquake relief effort. These structures clutter and impinge upon the small property where he conducts his fencing lessons.
We believe that the most immediate thing we can do to help Mr. Avril continue to perpetuate the tradition of Haitian fencing is to construct a simple, structurally sound steel-and-concrete home/training facility – one sturdy enough to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. Because of Mr. Avril’s modest requirements, this can be done for as little as $6500.
The member of our team who will be responsible for construction has twelve years of experience working in Haiti on similar projects, and good working relationships with professional contractors in the area who are able to build a modest structure (similar to the homes of Mr. Avril’s more well-off neighbors) at a minimum cost. With your help, we will break ground this coming July and finish the project by the end of August, just in time for the completed film’s premiere!
Therefore, funds raised through this Kickstarter effort will cover:
- Post-production coloring
- Post-production sound
- Film festival submission fees
- The construction of Professor Avril’s new home/training facility in Jacmel, Haiti
The entities collaborating on this project are:
Third Horizon Media
Third Horizon is a Miami-based production company and artist collective that aims to capture the sights and sounds of the Caribbean with a degree of insight and nuance that is not usually afforded to Caribbean experiences. Papa Machete is Third Horizon's first film.
The Haitian Machete Fencing Project
Haitian machete fencing is a functional martial art with deep roots in Haitian history. Our project is dedicated to promoting and teaching this system worldwide, under the tutelage of master fencer Alfred Avril. Founded in 2004, our volunteer team has long-term experience living and working in Haiti, and now facilitates annual training programs with Mr. Avril in and around the city of Jacmel. For six weeks every summer (from mid-July through August), we act as in-country guides, translators and assistant fencing instructors for adventurous foreigners who are serious about learning Haiti’s traditional martial art. We have produced numerous YouTube videos documenting Mr. Avril’s practice, with a combined viewership of nearly a quarter million, and facilitated the production of Papa Machete for Third Horizon Media. Beyond our in-country training programs and media outreach efforts, we are available to conduct workshops on traditional Haitian fencing worldwide.
Director - Jonathan David Kane
In the last three years, Jonathan has become a leading light on the Miami filmmaking community in his role as Minister of Justice for the Borscht Corporation. With Borscht, he has collaborated on nearly 40 projects that have screened at numerous film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, AFI, Rotterdam, Fantasia, Vienna, and contemporary art museums worldwide. Jonathan was named one of Miami's "top 100 creatives" by Miami New Times and is a recipient of the Haskell Wexler Award for Cinematography for his work on the breakthrough film At the Edge of the World, which served as inspiration for Animal Planet's popular tv show Whale Wars. You can view his work here.
Executive Producers/Writers - Jason Fitzroy Jeffers & Keisha Rae Witherspoon
As a journalist and musician, Jason has captured the sights, sounds and spirit of Miami and the Caribbean. Keisha is a Miami-based photographer, writer and artist. Through this film and others to follow from their company Third Horizon Media, they aim to explore little known pockets of life and cultural adventure that sprouted in the Caribbean and spread through the Americas. You can view Jason's work here and Keisha's here.
Director of Photography - Richard Patterson
Richard's very first credit as Director of Photography for the PBS documentary Hecho A Mano received an Emmy Award for Historical and Cultural programming by the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. Today, as a cinematographer and steadicam operator, Richard works in NYC and creates documentaries, commercial productions, and branded video content for various production companies contributing content to PBS, MSG Network, The Travel Channel, AARP, ARTE News and HBO Documentary Films. His commercial production work includes Cisco Systems, Lacoste, and AMG Mercedes Benz. You can view his work here.
Producer - Joey Daoud
Joey is a documentary and media producer based in South Florida. His feature documentary Bots High has screened around the world and is currently on iTunes and other VOD platforms. He has also directed short films which have appeared on BoingBoing, Gizmodo, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and many other media outlets. He is also the creator of the influential website Coffee and Celluloid, which documents his adventures in the world of filmmaking. You can view his work here.
Consultant - Michael Rogers
Michael is a PhD candidate in history at Cambridge University. He has been doing development work in Haiti for twelve years, and studying machete fencing under Alfred Avril for ten. In Haiti, he has collaborated with aid organizations on projects ranging from construction to sanitation to disaster relief. As co-founder of the Haitian Machete Fencing Project, he arranges guided tours for martial artists seeking to train with Mr. Avril in Haiti and leads fencing workshops by invitation worldwide. Michael will be responsible for coordinating and overseeing the construction of Mr. Avril's new home/training facility this summer.
Associate Producer - Liesl Harewood
Known to her friends as "Hot Foot Harewood" because of her zest for travelling and exploring new countries, Liesl is currently based in Nova Scotia Canada, working in international trade development. In previous lifetimes, her articles have been published in many Caribbean and international magazines like Zing, The Entrepreneur Network and Services Scoop. She has worked at two of the most renowned Arts Centres in the United Kingdom (Gardner Arts Centre and Warwick), and she is currently salsa dancing her life away.
Risks and challenges
We have finished editing our film, so no major challenges in completing it remain. We are working with seasoned professionals to do color and sound on Papa Machete, so we don't foresee any problems on this front.
Building the small structure in Haiti will be our biggest challenge going forward. As with any construction project, problems and delays can crop up. In Haiti, this can be especially true. However, we have anticipated these uncertainties as much as possible in our time-line and budget. In addition, these uncertainties are minimized by the small scale of the structure. As mentioned before, the member of our team who will be responsible for construction has a great deal of experience in Haiti building similar structures, and we are confident that we can construct a building that allows Professor Avril's family to thrive and his classes to continue for many years to come.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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