A Young Filmmaker’s Voyage of Discovery

Retired immigration official Louise Gagné (right) presents filmmaker Daphné Cambronne with documents chronicling her grandfather Roger’s activism with an anti-racism group in Montreal

By Colin McGregor

Imagine that you have a thirst to find out more about your roots – about a misty shadow in your memory you vaguely remember as your grandfather.

“Taxi drivers knew my family, the Cambronnes, more than I did” says Daphné Cambronne, whose 9 minute long documentary Un chaos rempli de poésie (A Chaos Filled with Poetry) won the “Prix regards d’ici” for short or medium-length film at the prestigious 2022 Vues d’Afrique film festival.

Now studying in the human communication and human organization program at UQAM, this intrepid young woman, from one of Haiti’s leading families, made her documentary as a project when she was at Cégep de Saint-Laurent.

In it, she, her father and her brother go through a box of documents and photos of her Haitian dissident grandfather, Roger S. Cambronne, before father and daughter visit the grandfather’s gravesite. But to all concerned, Roger is an almost mythic figure.

“It’s difficult because I didn’t really know him,” explains the father. “I saw him sporadically and poof! He disappeared… He always appeared a bit like a comet.”

The documentary begins with a photo of a baby Daphne perched on Roger’s knee. But Roger’s marriage broke up because of his violent and controlling nature. We learn that Roger was so ashamed of his behavior that he stayed away from his family, except for the occasional visit.

Daphne begins the documentary: “Hi, grandpa Roger, it’s your granddaughter. I’m 19 now. Of you, I have only a vague memory of your tall and slender silhouette. I have seen you so infrequently and know you so little.”

She explains to me at an interview: “I met him two or three times, he left for Haiti, then he came back. He was in prison, an enemy of the Duvalier regime.”

Some members of the Cambronne family helped the Duvalier regime during their reign of terror from 1957 to 1986. Luckner Cambronne led the hated Tonton Macoute paramilitary force that sowed fear and terror, committing numerous disappearances. But Roger, a journalist, found himself on the opposite side of political fence, and at one point sought refuge in Canada.

“A lot of Haitians fleeing Duvalier went to Canada, and some went to the Congo,” explains Louise Gagné, a retired Quebec immigration official who worked with many people like Cambronne. “But those who went to the Congo generally came back to Canada.” Indeed, while I interviewed Daphné at a café in Longueuil, Louise presented her with a package full of documents on her grandfather’s time in Quebec, including items in Roger’s own handwriting alluding to his involvement as coordinator of l’ACCORD, an anti-racism organization that worked with refugees and other immigrants to foster tolerance.

Daphne was clearly moved by the gift. In the documentary, there are also documents, photos and books that the family goes through.

“Roots are important,” Daphne’s father observes. “There is an expression of putting down roots. To feel strong and solid, it takes roots. What are roots? It is memory, it is the past.”

It was rare to see his father open up like that, says Daphne. “My father didn’t want to talk about my grandfather. For years I asked. Then he died. When I did the documentary he had no choice but to jump in the boat. He had to open up.”

He didn’t talk about Roger before the documentary, Daphne says, “because he wanted me to make up my own mind.” Daphne consulted several members of her family as well as members of the Haitian community in Montreal, such as community leader France Voltaire.

At the end of the film, Daphne tells her late grandfather that the documentary “allowed me to open a door and learn a little about you, and above all made me want to continue my research on my Haitian origins.”

French version available on the Reflet de Société website, March 13th 2023.

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