For the opening film of the 11th annual Montreal International Black Film Festival the film chosen was the documentary Sweet Mickey for President about singer Michel Martelly’s run for the president of Haiti following the earthquake that rocked the country in 2010. Politics intertwines with music in this involving, entertaining and educational film.
Pras Michel, born in the United States but of Haitian heritage, was one of the founding members of the Grammy Award-winning band The Fugees. He sat in New York City watching the devastation that hit Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake hit it in 2010. Fed up with the corruption within government in the country of his parents, Pras Michel decided to go there and see what needed to be done. While there he decided that someone needed to run for president in the 2011 election that the people could trust. Once he ran into fellow musician Michel Martelly, better known in Haiti as Sweet Mickey, Pras was convinced he had his man. Martelly quickly agreed and before you could say campaign the two were in Montreal (yeah, right here!) announcing the launching of Michel Martelly’s campaign.
Despite the fact that neither really had the money or political knowhow, the campaign moved forward. It was based mostly on Martelly’s charisma and the people’s desire for change. The plot thickened even more when, without a word of warning, Pras’s bandmate Wyclef Jean threw his hat into the presidential ring. Wyclef Jean had it all – popularity and money. It seemed like Martelly’s chances to get to the second round were slim.
Pras and Martelly, despite being in over their heads, forged on, never giving up. With Pras’s help Martelly transformed his reputation from a controversial kompa singer to a politician that could be trusted by Haitians. The silly musician has to be taken seriously by the other candidates.
The Ben Patterson (first film) directed/Pras Michel produced documentary gives you a total fly-on-the-wall perspective of Haiti and what went on during the period of the election for president. There is a nice mix of the personal and the political that happens here. You trail along with Martelly as he campaigns (which mostly involves the likeable man speaking at rallies to large groups of people) and you see a sliver of the dysfunctionality that broke up The Fugees. Pras and Wyclef butt heads at several turns and the communication between the two, who had formerly worked together, was minimal at best.
A small history lesson about the island nation of Haiti is also part of the film. We learn that Haiti was at the forefront of the slave revolution in 1804 winning its independence. Since then its history has been troubled and conflicted to say the least. Running through the series of corrupt presidents from François Duvallier to René Préval you see what the Haitians were at their wits end and often exploded into violence.
Another thing that happened on this opening evening of the festival was that the 2015 Humanitarian Award was given out to Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the slain black rights activist. Taking up his father’s fight Martin Luther King III has also spent his life fighting for human rights and social justice. In 2006 he founded the Realizing the Dream organization which seeks to eliminate poverty around the world.