The University of Miami's Cosford Cinema's breezeway was decorated with a sweet Bacardi cocktail layout last night. High tables were dressed in green and orange hues of the "U." Nearly 200 people came to catch a sneak peak of CNN's Soledad O'Brien's newest documentary, Rescued.
The one-hour doc describes the plight of hundreds of thousands of Haitian orphans before and after the January 12 quake. The story is told through the eyes of two orphans, six-year old Cendy Jeune, described as a "gem with a tough exterior", and former restavek (child slave) Marc Kenson Oliphi. Two American missionaries, Susette and Bill Manassero saved the two young Haitians by bringing them into their orphanage, The Lighthouse. O'Brien's team picked up the project from visual journalist Jonathan Olinger, who began shooting the orphanage in 2007. Beginning less than one week after the quake, O'Brien traveled to the island three times to complete the story.
The invitation-only event, catered by swanky Ortanique On the Mile and Bacardi, was presented by The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and the UM School of Communication. FIAC co-founder Cheryl Little praised the doc as "a painful reminder to everyone to remain committed to helping Haiti for the long run."
Oddly no contributions were asked of the attendees, who sipped on rum-infused concoctions and nibbled on tuna tar-tar. What was in abundance? Plenty of material promoting of the airing date and time of the doc. Organizers said the event was simply for "awareness"-- and a shot at mingling with O'Brien and throwing back mojitos in the process.
"I never feel like I am a celebrity, people are here because they care about the Haitian orphans, not because they're out there drinking cosmos," she said.
O'Brien has previously produced the noted docs "Black in America" and "Latino in America." But for this documentary, she has the backing of nationally acclaimed Haitian symbol and author, Edwidge Danticat. The Miami resident, award-winning writer, and native Haitian, provides a voice-over in the documentary, along with Wyclef Jean, who also recorded a song for it. Danticat, who attended the screening, said she can relate to O'Brien as a mother saying, "We are all moved by the plight of children, when they suffer we all suffer." Danticat declined to answer whether or not she can fully support the message of "Rescued."
The screening of the first half of the documentary poignantly depicted the Haitian orphans; the slums and impressive footage from the inside of a building during the devastating quake. But the screening ended right as the audience became invested in the characters--the ultimate stay-tuned tease.
Afterwards came a panel including Danticat, Little, Haitian philanthropist Robert Duval and co-founder of Project Medishare in Haiti, Dr. Barth Green. The panelists expressed their concern that current relief efforts are not sufficient, and that no one is being held responsible for where the money flooding into the island nation is going, including the U.S.
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"On the ground, there is a sense of lack of urgency," said Danticat.
The followup Q&A got heated -- quickly. Several audience members grilled the panel, asking how the average person can help while much international aid remains unseen. Their response -- to focus efforts on building, as there has been no secure infrastructure built on the island to date. Others questioned why nothing has been done regarding pushing for a change in the nation's policies, as child slavery is still legal. And one man with a ponytail of dreadlocks asked O'Brien to promise that CNN would seek answers as to what foundations are doing with their funding on the island. After dancing around the notion of speaking on behalf of the network, O'Brien pledged that journalists everywhere are charging at the issue.
So maybe she succeeded with the awareness thing? With her hot pink dress, killer flesh-tone heels, and trendy bauble necklace, O'Brien definitely got people tipsy and talking. And while her ratings will likely make a move north, so will America's dwindling focus on Haiti.
Rescued will air in its entirety this Saturday, May 8, at 8 p.m.