Mud Pies & Kites

Pax et Bonum Communications, Inc.

Mud Pies & Kites
Death & Resurrection in Haiti

A Film by
Gerard Thomas Straub

“An individual has not started living until he or she can rise above the narrow confines of his or her individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.”
-Thomas Merton

Set in Haiti, Mud Pies & Kites is about the necessity of compassion. The film will thoroughly document the life of the poor in this most impoverished of nations. The Cité Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, the capitol of Haiti, is the oldest and largest slum in the city. Someone described it as “as close to hell as you can get.” Half the newborn children in the slum will die before they reach the age of five. At night, some kids are forced to stay up all night and beat the rats away with sticks; the rat population outnumbers the people by ten to one. In Haiti, corruption and violence abound. The government is out of money. Garbage is pilled up in the streets. There is virtually no electrical power; people without a generator spend the night in the dark. Hunger and starvation are rampant. People live in unimaginable squalor and eat mud pies made from dirt, spices and sugar…and contaminated water.

And that was before the earthquake of January 12, 2010 that killed 316,000 people. Haiti was a disaster before the earthquake, now it is an unimaginable nightmare. One million homeless Haitians have been living in tents for more than a year.

Mud Pies & Kites is a visual meditation on compassion; essentially, it consists of a series of reflections on the nature and importance of compassion, which is, of course, a central part of all religions. The film will capture the dignity and courage of the poor, as well as the vibrantly colorful culture of Haiti, along with its music, art and stunning natural beauty. In the midst of the agony of extreme poverty and deprivation, the film will celebrate the possibility of a better future through mutual cooperation and genuine compassion. Every moment of every day, God the All Powerful willingly becomes powerless and risks becoming a beggar of love patiently waiting for us to respond by not only loving God but also all of God’s creation, especially the poor and rejected. And compassion is the fullest expression of the luminous force of intentional love and kindness.

While making this film, I made seven trips to Haiti, the first just four weeks before the earthquake and the second just eight days after the earthquake. I made subsequent trips in March, August, October, December and in February of 2011 as I attempted to thoroughly document the life of the poor who were struggling to recover from a catastrophic disaster and facing an epidemic of cholera. During the last four trips, I actually lived in a massive slum, living without electricity and running water…and with rats. I have filmed slums like this all over the world, but to live in one was another experience altogether. I was able to truly document the life of the poor in a manner I never have before.

After all those trips to Haiti during the country’s most tumultuous year in it’s long tortured history, I was left with countless images that are forever seared into my mind…the endless mutilated crush victims, the horrendous living conditions, the sick, dying and dead…yet, for me, all that I have witnessed can be best encapsulated in two simple and common objects, a mud pie and a kite, that speak plainly and clearly to both the despair and the hope I found in Haiti.

On my desk in my library I have a mud pie I brought home from Haiti. I could never imagine being so hungry and so broke that I had to resort to eating something made from mud and contaminated water, something so vile it could make me very sick or even kill me. A mud pie symbolizes, for me, the extreme poverty of so many Haitians. Mud pies are baked in ovens of anguish and hopelessness.

I will never forget my first visit to Cité Soleil, the worst slum in Port-au-Prince. The devastation, the tin shacks, the rotting trash, the spewing sewage, a little girl urinating in the garbage, a woman defecating in the open, naked kids with bloated bellies running barefoot through pig-infested mud and rubbish…it was all too-much to take in. And then there was the fetid and nauseating stench from rotting garbage that was intensified by the blistering heat. The nightmarish slum literally assaulted my senses, left me feeling helpless and emotionally wrought.

And then, all of a sudden and totally unexpectedly, something fun and joyful caught my eye and filled me with hope. It was a makeshift kite fashioned out of a plastic garbage bag. It seemed to laugh and dance in the Caribbean breeze that momentarily kept it awkwardly aloft. Other kites were made out of soiled paper plates. In a place that made no sense, a kite was something I could understand. The kids and the kites lifted my spirits. It showed me how imagination could lift the human spirit out of the muck of sadness and hopelessness. The endurance and innocence of the children countered the madness and injustice of the adults.

And so mud pies and kites came to symbolize the death and resurrection that is a daily event in Haiti.

The film will be loosely based on my recently published book, Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage to Compassion and Resurrection. Here is what Tom Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter wrote about the book: “Gerry Straub is a story-teller with a camera. In an era when news has become so atomized and fast-paced it is almost impossible to get a sense of the whole, Straub engages two great risks. He takes us to see what much of the world would rather ignore, and he does it slowly and reflectively. The risks pay off here in a kind of meditation on Haiti that is simultaneously brutally frank and filled with the hope of religious imagination.” And Thomas Merton scholar and renowned author Jonathan Montaldo said this of the book: “Gerard Straub’s harrowing account of his voluntary descent into the agony of Haiti’s suffering – his choosing to become lost with the lost – disallows his reader to remain comfortable on the sidelines. While this book details the courage of the many who are coming to Haiti’s aid, Straub’s personal discovery of the miracle hidden under an earthquake’s rubble – the compassion for one another in extremis by Haitian’s themselves – is the true spiritual epiphany arising out of this book’s careful rendering of an unimaginable tragedy for our time and our world.”

After having made 15 films on poverty around the world, I believe, without question, Mud Pies & Kites will be the most compelling film I’ve ever made. I truly need and appreciate any help you can offer my fledgling new ministry, Pax et Bonum Communications. The cost of all the trips to Haiti has been paid for in full. We now need to raise $18,000 for the editing and manufacturing phases of the production. We are earnestly seeking 12 sponsors (individuals, schools or churches) donating $1,500 each to cover the cost of completing this compelling film. Each sponsor will be recognized and thanked in the film’s end credits. Thanks to the generosity of a few major donors, we have purchased and set up a brand new editing system in a renovated room behind my garage…and we have begun the editing, trusting that the remaining funding we need will come during the three months it will take to edit the film. Help us help Haiti.

Gerry Straub
Pax et Bonum Communications, Inc.
827 N. Hollywood Way #555
Burbank, CA 91505

Here is a link to the Prologue of the film which has been posted on YouTube:


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