Don't take yes for an answer

Observer senior writer

Thursday, October 26, 2017

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BORN in South Florida to Haitian parents, Edson Jean and Joshua Jean-Baptiste are film-makers determined to produce projects that reflect their Caribbean heritage as well as their hometown Miami.

They want to do so on their own terms, and encourage other budding film-makers to use that uncompromising approach.

That message was the highlight of Don't Take Yes For An Answer, part of the GEMS Film Festival on October 14 at Tower Theater in Miami. GEMS is an extension of the Miami Film Festival which celebrates its 35th anniversary in March.

Jean and Jean-Baptiste implored their peers not to sign with production companies despite the lure of quick money. They walked away from an attractive offer last year when a three-minute promotional piece for a potential television series won Project Greenlight Digital Studio's first Get The Greenlight Digital Series contest.

The main prize was $25,000 but the friends said they turned it down after weighing their options.

“We knew we had something greater in scope; sometimes money is not the greatest thing,” 28-year-old Jean told the Jamaica Observer.

Jean-Baptiste agreed: “We've always operated with a level of integrity. At the same time, we got to meet some amazing people involved in the (film) industry.”

During Don't Take Yes For An Answer, they also spoke about an eight-part web series on which they recently completed production. It is due for release in 2018.

Neither went into detail about the reason they turned down the Greenlight funding. According to Jean-Baptiste, “There are a lot of stories that need to be told, but they have to be told accurately.”

That accuracy surrounds being Haitian in Miami, which has got negative coverage over the years with widespread reports of poverty and crime. Jean and Jean-Baptiste, who met eight years ago while they were students at New World School of the Arts in Miami, want to change that, just as Woody Allen and Spike Lee did for New York City through their films.

Today, much of New York City's crime-ridden areas have been transformed through gentrification. Parts of Miami have been similarly impacted.

“People will say things like, 'so you want to be the Haitian Spike Lee?' And we say no, we want to push everyone, not just Haitians,” said Jean.

Born in West Palm Beach, Jean produced and starred in a comedy, The Adventures of Edsel Jean; he had a role in Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year.

Moonlight is set and was filmed in Liberty City, Miami.

Their web series, based on Jean-Baptiste's years as a film student in Miami, was largely funded through social media formats such as Kickstarter.




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