‘Serenade for Haiti’: pleasant yet unfocused

October 26, 2017
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  • “Serenade for Haiti” focuses on musically gifted children. Photo: Owsley Brown
Photo: Owsley Brown
“Serenade for Haiti” focuses on musically gifted children.“Serenade for Haiti,” which concerns a music center for gifted children in Port-au-Prince, is a film in search of a story, but the pleasant-to-watch documentary provides a fascinating slice of life from an island state that Americans have traditionally ignored.

Director Owsley Brown wants to do many things here: to give us a sense of Haiti’s history, to show us a different side of the nation, to chronicle the plight of the music center after the devastating 2010 earthquake, to spotlight the power of music on the human spirit and to profile some of the talented children and dedicated teachers. That’s a lot to accomplish in 70 minutes, so it’s little surprise that none of the subjects — or themes — end up making much of an impression.

From time to time, we see and hear some beautiful choirs, but there is little context, since we haven’t been introduced to most of the singers. We know precious little about their backgrounds, and thus watching their performances doesn’t offer much in the way of emotional resonance. Even the drama of the horrible earthquake, which leveled Port-au-Prince, seems oddly muted, as does the community’s efforts to restore the music center.

What stands out are the images of daily life in the capital and Haiti’s beautiful landscapes, including the multicolored homes in the hills. Brown offers us a more multifaceted view of the country and its people, and that alone is often music to our ears.

David Lewis is Bay Area freelance writer.

Serenade for Haiti

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