Art

Jason Fitzroy Jeffers on His Film Papa Machete and the Art of Machete Fencing

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In my opinion, Haiti has not received the accolades that it deserves as a nation and moreover, as a guiding example for liberty in this hemisphere. What can you tell us about the resilience of the Haitian people?

It's not a coincidence that Haiti has not received that recognition. Imagine you were a slave master in 1804 at the time of the Haitian Revolution. Maybe you had cotton fields in the U.S. South, or a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. How would you react upon hearing the news that the slave masters of the largest sugar producing country in the world and no less than Napoleon's armies had been beaten back by a united front of "lowly" slaves?

It sent shock waves around the world, and the world responded in kind, whether that meant failing to acknowledge Haiti's new independence from France or isolating the small country.

It's hard to get your head around just how much Haiti has endured since then: ostracism from the rest of the world, dictatorship, endless political turmoil, and to top it off, the earthquake of 2010. And yet, people carry on. I don't think they have much choice actually. All of this has forged a people with incredible strength, one that allows them to go forward in the face of the turmoil that still exists. That's what I find particularly impressive. You're dealing with some of the strongest people in the world here.

As I've told you in private correspondence, my initial thoughts on "machete fencing" were akin to Filipino stick fighting, how close or off the mark am I in that mentality?

I definitely see some similarities. The interesting thing about Tire Machèt is that there are many different styles and strains of it. We've been contacted by people who see similarities between Tire Machèt and German messer fencing and Venezuelan garrote fighting. I think there's a key difference in the training, as Professor Avril's students train from a defensive position with one hand behind their back. It essentially trains you how to fluidly fend off attacks while seeking the best position to strike back. After training for a while, you develop your own style and strategy.

It's like dancing on a chessboard with machetes.

Your Kickstarter campaign was featured as their Project of the Day. What was that experience like?

We hit our 10K target in 10 days, and exceeded it by the time the campaign ended. The response from people and press around the world was overwhelming -- touching even. Most of the funds raised have gone toward the construction of a new house for Professor Avril, as his former home was badly damaged during the earthquake. The foundation for the new home was just laid a few days ago, and I'll be flying back down to Haiti soon to lend a hand before I go to Toronto to premiere the film next month.

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Abel Folgar