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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Haiti's film debut brings real magic
King Chacha (Dominique Battraville)
The film centres on Chacha's belief that he is Haiti's King Christophe
The first ever feature film to be made in Haiti has become a success in the country - even before its release.

Royal Bonbon - a comedy-drama about a villager who believes he is the reincarnation of King Christophe, the man who led Haiti to independence - is not officially out in the country until later this summer.

But the enthusiasm for the project has seen it have two early showings - the first of which attracted over 3,000 people.

"For the first time, people are able to see a feature film completely done in Haiti - and because 3,000 people came I saw the reaction," Royal Bonbon's French director Charles Najman told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"At that moment, I had the idea that my film was like a big mirror - of their identity, of their culture, of their history."


The film was shot entirely using non-professional actors.

It follows the life of an ordinary Haitian man, Chacha, who is convinced he is King Henri Christophe, a former slave who defeated French colonial forces and led Haiti to independence in 1804.

King Chacha (Dominique Battraville) talks with Thimothee (Benji)
The film's central relationship is between King Chacha and Thimothee
Historically, Christophe hoped to be fairer than the past regime - but became corrupted by his own power and turned to tyranny.

"The subject of the film is in a sense Haitian history - but it's more a poem about Haiti and its magic dimension," Najman explained.

In Royal Bonbon, Chacha is ordered to leave his hometown of Cap-Haitien and takes refuge in Christophe's real-life royal palace, Sans Souci, accompanied by the only person who believes him - a young boy named Thimothee.

From there, he begins to convince the people of a neighbouring village that he really is King Christophe.

History eventually repeats itself, however: Chacha becomes a tyrant and Thimothee leads a revolt that topples the new king.

Extraordinary history

Najman said the entirely new experience of filming in Haiti had stimulated the whole region.

Royal Bonbon
Some of the film was shot in the ruins of the palace of King Christophe
"The shooting of this film was an incredible living theatre for all the farmers and all the population of this village," Najman said.

But he added that it had created a unique set of problems - mostly related to the voodoo content of the film.

"We had a scene with a woman who is a mambo - a voodoo priest.

"The moment before we wanted to shoot, we had to be given a kind of passport to shoot a voodoo scene.

"Every day we had incredible stories."

Anne-Louise Mesadieu, who stars as Christophe's queen in the film, said that filming Royal Bonbon had opened her eyes to her own country.

"It was really special, because I did not know Cap-Haitien, the place where we were filming," she said.

Chacha and subject
In the end Chacha becomes a tyrant
"I didn't know my country, I didn't know it would give me the feeling to go into Haiti and meet my people and to really become Haitian."

The second preview of the film was held in the north of the country, where it was filmed, and all the farmers who had been involved were shown it for the first time.

"That was fantastic, because for the first time they saw a film - and secondly, they saw themselves," Najman said.

"It was really special."

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