August 13, 2015

Words and Photos by Christopher L. Mitchell

Haitian photographer Christopher L. Mitchell will be documenting life, culture, art and commerce in Haiti for a new series of photo and video dispatches, Kreyol Chronicles. First stop is a visit to the La Vallée Kite Festival, an event for kids held annually in the mountains outside of Jacmel.

This was the fifth annual edition of a festival that happens on the 2nd of January in La Vallée. It’s about an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive from Jacmel. It was started in 2010, to give kids in La Vallée something productive to do over the holidays. The earthquake happened right after, and the next year everyone made black kites with the names of lost family members and other people who passed away in the earthquake. Ever since then, it’s become an annual tradition for kids in La Vallée, and now you even have people from Germany and Japan bringing fun kites for the kids, along with the homemade ones that are made locally.

I was invited by a friend of mine who runs an orphanage out there. She had a friend who died mysteriously who was running it, and decided to take over and take care of these kids. There’s about 13 of them, and about half of them have HIV. These are some of the kids you see in the photos. A couple people from California fund the organization.

Kite flying is a big deal in Haiti. People make their own kites out of plastic strings and sticks, and fly them. I recently came across some photos of me flying a kite in Haiti in the late ’90s, and I look so happy. Every Haitian grownup has fond memories of kite competitions as a kid, and doing things like putting razorblades on the tail end of your kite to cut the rope of the other guy’s kite, so yours is more superior.

This was a family event, though. I wasn’t sure what was waiting for me that day—I never knew it existed until I went. The song [“Chimen Limyè”] that you hear playing in the video was blasting in the background while I was filming. It’s an old proverb. I tracked down the version that was playing in the background [by John Steve Brunache], and I found a way to layer it and dub it over the images I had with it already. When you hear the record cut, that really happened with that song at that moment. I chose it as a break in the scene but that was the actual break while I was there of that song. Sometimes you are looking at the scenes and you try and find how this is all going to flow, and that song in the background helped bring it all together.

There is something about flying a kite that is so relaxing. I think it’s therapeutic. It connects you with your inner child. Everyone there that day was so happy. You had older people, you had foreigners, these little kids. It was a pure moment in the mountains of Haiti. It was like a Disney flick without the politics— pure innocence. I was like a kid again that day, and I think the happiness shows in the pictures.

Special thanks to Gala Calisto for her assistance with this article.