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Just after sundown on a warm Thursday, past large glass windows framing young Black girls mimicking the gestures of their dance teacher during an evening class, we reached the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. This year, for the first time since its founding six years ago, the Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival was held in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami. The festival comes at a time of great uncertainty for the future of the community, with many longtime Haitian residents struggling against displacement amid a rapid influx of luxury private development.

Third Horizon’s presence in the grandiose Complex is also a testament to how much the festival has grown in the years since it began, and to the closure of their previous location at O Cinema in Wynwood. The city is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Sites and spaces are becoming nearly unrecognizable in just a few short years. Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, the co-director of Third Horizon, names this sharpening contradiction in his opening welcome to the audience. This year’s theme for the festival was “No Place Like Home.” 

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Photo by Helen Peña-Smicker.

Little Haiti’s existence on increasingly valuable, more elevated land, the punitive debt barriers preventing most working-class immigrant families from owning the homes they live in, a crisis of unmitigated foreign capital buying investment properties across Miami, and paradigmatic anti-Blackness, all entangle to precipitate the neighborhood as ground zero for climate gentrification, in a sinking gilded city. 

Evictions in Miami are frequent. So are the storms. Jeffers remembers during the 2017 Third Horizon when the cinema’s electricity went out amid Hurricane Maria. The islands, still rebuilding years later, were of course hit much harder. “We wanted to examine how communities wrestled with ‘Where do we go?’ What comes next?’” 

Jeffers then introduced Esery Mondesir, a Toronto-based Haitian filmmaker whose trilogy of documentary films, under the banner of “A Radical Empathy,” all intimately focused on the lives of Haitian workers, officially opened the festival. 

The relation to the other (to the other in its totality, in its animal, vegetable, or cultural—and as a result, human—presence) shows us the highest, the most honorable, the most enriching part of ourselves. Let the walls fall.

A labor organizer turned filmmaker, Modesir’s warm humor and visible excitement made the weight of the political introduction to his work feel heavier, exacting. The stakes of this moment often feel like a shrinking circle drawn unrelentingly all around us. A time to huddle, a time to listen. Trump is not the only white supremacist Mondesir named. He ended the introduction by quoting a manifesto co-written by Martinican poet and philosopher Edouard Glissant, in discursive resistance to the xenophobic “Nationality law” then French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s sought to implement in 2007: 

Walls threaten everyone, on both sides of their darkness. They complete the work of drying out what has already withered on the side of deprivation, they complete the work of souring the anguish that lies on the other side, the side of abundance. The relation to the other (to the other in its totality, in its animal, vegetable, or cultural—and as a result, human—presence) shows us the highest, the most honorable, the most enriching part of ourselves. Let the walls fall.

In Mondesir’s first film “Paria, Mon Frère,” long shots of a mostly empty street, only briefly interrupted by red blue police lights twinkling at a distance or someone unrecognizable walking away, precedes footage of Saul and his father-in-law Mathieu preparing for a day of selling at a street market in Tijuana, Mexico. Thousands of Haitian migrants currently live in Tijuana, many journeyed there in hopes of finding work in the U.S. and were left shut out without any path to enter after Trump took office. Mondesir’s film does not emphasize a sense of waiting to begin. Even in the near silence, the small talk, the forgettable minutia, life is happening. Several of the long and quiet shots are also overlaid with lines of poetry by the Haitian poet Davertige, “Paria my brother, I follow you. Show me the route to the springs.” 

Across the trilogy of films, though subjects (also listed by Mondesir as “collaborators”) vary significantly, Mondesir’s consistent patience and attentiveness allow the mundanities and obscenities of ordinary practices—migrating, hustling, and attempting to pay homage to their Haitian ancestors, seem like remarkable improvised technologies, particularly against a backdrop of impasses, state violence, and extractive economies. 

Film stills courtesy of Esery Mondesir and Third Horizon Collective.

In “What Happens to a Dream Deferred,” Wood and Colonel spend hours meticulously preparing Soup Joumou, a soup traditionally made in honor of Haitian Independence, in a “trap house” near the Mexico border. They met while migrating from Haiti through nearly a dozen other countries perilously attempting to cross into the states. Langston Hughes’ famous poem for which the film is named lingers on the screen for a moment; audio of Trump’s voice infamously sneering “shithole countries” in a closed-door meeting lingers too. 

“We wanted to examine how communities wrestled with ‘Where do we go?’ What comes next?’”

I ask Esery Mondesir about his use of poetry after the films close, meditating on the recent loss of prolific Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite. While at first he mentions simply being a longtime fan of poetry, he emails later quoting an interview with Trinh T. Minh Ha to add more explanation to his own creative process and its relation to poetics, “… Rather, I am referring to the fact that language is fundamentally reflexive, and only in poetic language can one deal with meaning in a revolutionary way. For the nature of poetry is to offer meaning in such a way that it can never end with what is said or shown.” 

In Mondesir’s articulation, “home” beyond an imagined location becomes an irreducible and uncontained condition, a connective thread stewarding Haitian workers in diaspora across the Americas and the Global South, or if looking deeper, an ideological condition across a broader diasporic working-class, an undefeated militant aspiration, we are trying to go home. Maybe home is your grandmother’s house. Maybe home is proletarian revolution. 

Film stills courtesy of Esery Mondesir and Third Horizon Collective.

Nearly all of my friends here in Miami belong to various diasporas, some live in close geographic proximity to the countries of their parents, often mentioning an awkward loneliness in being unable to fully ‘return,’ even if they are lucky enough to visit every so often.

Photo by Helen Peña-Smicker

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Home has always meant a negotiation for many of Miami’s Black residents. Miami as a city would not exist without Carribean migrants—Black immigrants, and descendants of enslaved peoples from the Bahamas in particular were among the original population that would incorporate as a city in 1896, and labored in construction and hospitality services that formed early industries and infrastructure. Anti-blackness was also always part of the story: from segregation, to subpar housing and wages for Black workers, who were forced to leave their islands to find more lucrative work as a direct result of the lingering impacts of colonization; plantation agriculture had so thoroughly damaged the soil across the islands, it was difficult for people to even grow their own food. The contradiction of cities depending on Black presence while simultaneously reinforcing the displacement of Black people is not unique to Miami. 

But in the courtyard bathed in warm pink light, we pressed our bodies against each other or took space to photograph friends being sultry and winding on stage, while Foreigner, an LA based DJ from Trinidad and Tobago played. Foreigner’s biography on Resident Advisor mentions his “commitment to Panafrican philosophy,” and a commitment to members of the African diaspora cultivating their own sound, “The way my philosophy is evolving, I really want to center people from the diaspora, specifically people behind the scenes and behind the decks. Oftentimes, in the underground scene, you hear Afrodiasporic music, but you’ll seldom see Black people playing it.” 

Perhaps many of us feel closer to belonging to “no place” than the imagined “home” of European settlers.

Photo by Helen Peña-Smicker.

Third Horizon resounds over the typical veneer of a superficial multiculturalism by platforming films that intimate a vivid and varied array of interventions by Caribbean filmmakers speaking on their own behalf. The films featured make space for narratives that can document Black life, migrant life, life in diaspora and at the margins as rigorous and unbounded; white America and Europe (if brought up at all), are situated mostly in the periphery. 

In a time of spectacular and ordinary violences, Third Horizon offers a window into a Caribbean poetics of making home, without destination—visualizing the practices and projects of return and refuge that remain unfinished. The films serve as a medium that tethers histories, exiles, and the unrequited aspirations that bend the story of a people without breaking. 

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Zaina Alsous

Zaina Alsous is an editor at Scalawag magazine, a movement worker in South Florida, and the author of A Theory of Birds (University of Arkansas Press).