Ben Patterson never thought the mini skirt, thong, and diaper wearing cross-dresser he was filming would become President of Haiti, but he did. And actor Marlon Wayans found the story so entertaining he jumped on board as an executive producer. Michel Martelly, aka "Sweet Micky," was one of Haiti's most popular, and most controversial, pop stars before he was elected president of the island after the 2010 earthquake.
Sweet Micky For President is the bizarre story of the 2010 election of Michel Martelly, a candidate dreamed up by Pras Michel, and opposed by Wyclef Jean - both proud Haitians - and members of the top-selling hip hop group of all time, The Fugees. It also features strange turns by Sean Penn and Ben Stiller, as themselves. The documentary premiers later this week at the Miami International Film Festival.
Here's what director Ben Patterson had to say about hiding his intentions, pacing for thrills, and maybe making a movie in Miami.
New Times: How did you get involved with movie?
Ben Patterson: So, I knew Pras because he reached out to me after having seen an advertising project I did in New York for a watch company. He called me after the earthquake in Haiti to shoot a film, but at the time we didn't have a story. Not until Pras told me that he was convincing Michell Martelly to run for president.
I looked him up online and all I found were Sweet Micky videos of him wearing diapers and crazy stuff and I thought I got the name wrong. I was like, "Pras, who is Sweet Micky?" And he told me, "He's a musician." I thought, this is insane. All the media out there on Martelly was not politics, but this crazy kompa star. I thought that had the makings of an interesting story. I asked to be a fly on the wall and film the campaign. I thought I'd end up with a short film about Pras from the Fugees and this diaper wearing musician running for presidency of a country with so many issues and I never thought we would end up with the story that we did.
What was your approach to mobilize the production?
Even Pras didn't really know I was making a movie until about a year into it. I knew if I made it too official, it would get literally political. So I was just Pras' boy with a camera. He would hit me up to go meet him wherever, and I filmed everything as it went down. That afforded me the access, but staying unofficial was the key.
[Martelly] was totally cool. He loved me. But as the thing grew and the stakes got higher, I knew I'd have to play my cards right to see it all the way through. I brought Josh Hyde in with me as co-cinematographer and we worked together on this little rag tag bootstrap production.
How long did it take to shoot?
We shot over the course of two years. Not wham-bam. We create a pace that feels like political thriller through editing, but the process of filming and then going back and shooting more took two years.
How did Marlon Wayans get involved as producer?
We were kind of screening it for people at their homes, different influencers, and Marlon and his producing partner Rick Alvarez saw the movie. They loved the story and execution and were really big fans of the movie. We talked to him and he's been a big help since he came on as an executive producer. He's a great comedian and storyteller and filmmaker and it was kind of a new thing to get him to believe in a doc like this.
Do you get special treatment in Haiti now because you know the President?
Depends on who we're talking to. Just like here, there are strong opinions on either side about whether he's a great president or not. But we don't make any claims about that. Our film is just about this lightning in a bottle election. I don't know about special treatment, but Haiti is a special place. I love to go there and I made some really great friends. And many people who visit do fall in love with the country.
What do you think of the Miami International Film Festival?
We're really excited to be there. It's a great festival and we're amped that the Haitian community in Miami has the chance to come see the film and a lot of other great movies. We're in really great company and it's a very well run festival.
Did you feel it was important to show off the natural beauty of the island?
Yes. I came to share Pras' frustration with Haiti's depiction by the media in terms of poverty and chaos. What excited me about the story was it being a window into this country through a commercial film that was entertaining, but along the way you're in this world with Haitians. The best compliment we get is that it's just a great journey. And I think that's the best way to bring outsiders into a culture and country and place that's very misunderstood.
Any shout outs?
Yeah, Pras obviously, Karyn Rachtman our producer, Marlon Wayans, and Bryn Mooser at RYOT, they've ben great supporters. Oliver Luckett and all them loved the movie from the get go and been really instrumental in getting this film out to the world.
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