Unedited conversations between artist in a productive critique discovering thesis and processes behind the work.
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congratulations on Sundance
Ramos: how did you get involved in this film?
Kane: Kinda like a lot of my previous work: it all starts with a phone call.
My good friend Jason Jeffers discovered a martial art using machetes as a weapon, and he called me all giddy, wanting to do go learn the art and make a project. Like two weeks later we were on a plane flying to Haiti to make a film.
It all happened really fast. Jason is from Barbados, and has always seen the machete as the Excalibur of the Caribbean. I saw the project as a chance to document something never really explored in cinema, and tell a positive story about the beauty of Haitian culture.
Or at least a particular aspect of the culture, which I find beautiful.
Ramos: it is a beautiful story, there was so much hope and acceptance by Alfred Avril
and the pain of experiencing the trajectory of the Haitian culture during the past century
Director: Jonathan David Kane
Papa Machete, 2014
Kane: The trust he had in us to tell his story was beautiful. He was in his 70's before he passed away. I can only imagine the things he experienced over the past century of Haiti's tumultuous past.
Yet, his hope for the future was steadfast, and I really wanted that to come across in the film.
Ramos: right as if some force was going to balance things out, make things right
I loved how he didn't point fingers or justify the process towards scarcity he experienced
Kane: He embodied endurance, preservation, and strength.
Ramos: personally, I identified with the film, because in Cuba the machete is also a prominent tool, both for farming, especially sugar cane, and as a weapon
i love hearing stories of my father in "la escuela al campo" and how they had near death machete fights
Kane: Cool. Yea, its amazing how distinctly unique each island's culture is, and yet the Caribbean is entirely connected.
Ramos: definitely in many ways, I was in Cuba during "periodo especial", a time in which food disappeared all together
Kane: Your father was in near death machete fights?!
Ramos: yeah i think anyone that went to "escuela al campo" was too
when i was a kid I couldn't wait to go
but we left before I was of age
Kane: Did your father teach you any fighting technique? I've been looking for sparring partners, and it would be cool to compare styles.
Don't try and kill me tho.
Ramos: haha no
i had to learn boxing to defend myself in school
that's cause we didn't take machetes to school
in "escuela al campo" all the kids had a machete so it was different
whenever there was any conflict everyone was armed
how much time did you spend with Alfred Avril?
Kane: Our team and I were in Jacmel with Professor Avril for three weeks.
Part of the structure of the production was in addition to filming, we also took classes. So our whole team joined in lessons each day.
Ramos: that sounds amazing
Kane: It definitely was
Ramos: is there anything like that here in Miami?
Kane: Not that I am aware of. Avril and his sons are some of the few masters of this martial art that have not only displayed their practice publicly, but also taught their style openly.
Who knows, maybe with the success of this film, more masters will make their practice public, but for now Tire machét remains a art practiced in the shadows.
Ramos: are his sons continuing the practice and lessons now that he passed away?
Kane: Its a good question.
And one that I am hoping to find the answer to. But I won't know until I ask them, and until them I do not want to speculate.
The passing of Professor Avril has been traumatic to all of us.
Ramos: yes I can imagine, he was like a samurai, had a force of his own that felt grounding and at the same time adjusting to the realities of the times
Kane: Modern day samurai for real. He moved with strength and grace.
Was completely aware in every moment.
There were times when he would be in the middle of a heated bout with a student, and having a conversation with his neighbor walking down the street at the same time.
Always with a smile.
I mean, I saw this man light a candle with his thumb. That's on some "Jedi master in the mountains of Haiti" type shit.
Ramos: yeah i saw that part
Kane: Nice! Its so subtle that most people miss it
Ramos: the whole thing is not about combat, it is a spiritual practice
a way to keep humility as part of the everyday
Kane: Exactly. Deep spiritual practice that goes back centuries.
Ramos: today we fight with guns
it is hard to have a spiritual practice around guns
Kane: Today we fight with guns, bombs, chemicals, media.
Spirituality seems non-existent in the modern world.
No time for it
Ramos: i think it's fair to say those weapons things you mention are anti-spiritual
Ramos: they are no longer extensions of ourselves
like a sword or machete
and perhaps that's the key
Ramos: once the bullet leaves the gun, it is no longer part of us
Kane: its just seems so easy. Taking a life shouldn't be that easy. There should be more thought in such a decision than simply pushing a button.
Damn, this convo got so heavy lol
Ramos: so is the film
and so is conflict in general, the kind of conflict that requires violence
or leads to violence
it's happening all over today
Kane: Its true. Every time I check into the world around me I am violently struck with an onslaught of horrible events. And the people who are trying to come to terms with our contemporary fucked up world society.
Ramos: as a film maker, are you seeking to touch more on these subjects?
do you think it adds to the chaos, as in it's best to use film to think of something else, perhaps to escape this reality?
Kane: As a filmmaker, I like working in the completely outlandish/abstract, or telling stories that are hyper realistic. For me, anything in between is boring, adding to the chaos, distraction.
I try my best to craft these works with positive change in the mind's eye. I want the viewer to feel inspiration, hope, strength, faith, etc. these kinds of emotions are important to the world, and are increasingly scarce in contemporary art and media.
So do I necessarily want to fixate on every world problem, and tell these stories through a documentary lens, and cast judgment or influence like so much media out there does?... well no.
I just want to tell interesting, lesser told stories, with the goal of inspiring my audience.
With all the horrible things in our world, we are still here as a species. Life still exists. Individuality still exists. Beauty still exists. Sometimes we need to be reminded of these things. Thats what I hope my work will do and continue to do.