Meet Jeff Kaufman, director of the documentary FATHER JOSEPH. Jeff has produced and directed several documentaries; majority of the films focusing on human rights issues. Jeff met Father Joseph Phillippe and was completely inspired by his work. Jeff tells us how and why he decided to make Father Joseph Phillippe his subject for his new documentary.
1. How did you first hear/learn about Father Joseph and his work?
I had produced / directed several documentaries with Amnesty International, and I was invited to a human rights salon at the studio of composer Hans Zimmer. I met a humble, funny, energetic Haitian priest, Father Joseph Philippe, who was there to talk about the micro-finance institution he founded (Haiti’s largest), and about the university he built in his mountain community, Fondwa (it is Haiti’s only rural college). If you watch the film, you’ll see he’s actually done much more than that. A few months later, I was filming in Haiti with Father Joseph . . . and trying to keep up with his tireless pace.
2. What did you find most impressive about Father Joseph and/or his work?
I love the fact that Father Joseph, son of peasant farmers and the first in his family to get an education, felt from an early age that the best way to transform Haiti is to empower poor women. When he first started his peasant organization, a number of his close friends were murdered because of their work for the poor, but he keeps moving forward with a quiet courage. Father Joseph also has a passionate but very inclusive faith, which I respect. He says in the film, “I think people of every faith, as long as they do good, that they will go to heaven.” I’m also inspired by his resilience and determination. Almost everything he built over 25 years was destroyed by the 2010 earthquake (two schools, the orphanage, the community center, a health clinic, and a radio station), but he never stops (that’s one of his favorite sayings, “Never stop!”). When Producer Marcia Ross and I were in Haiti last winter, we saw that he had – almost miraculously – rebuilt his 650-student K-14 school. There is A LOT to be impressed by.
3. Did you encounter any difficulties during filming especially when traveling?
In general, it’s not easy planning to film a documentary in rural Haiti, although we did get some wonderful help. There was a time we were told not to return to Haiti because of a spate of kidnappings (we went anyway), we had a few awkward encounters with authorities, and I often had a hard time keeping up with our Haitian friends on steep mountain paths, but overall we were really blessed to meet and be welcomed by dozens of incredibly good, hard-working people.
4. Is there anything you learned through filming and/or traveling that really captivated you?
I don’t want to sound sappy, but we have so much to gain and understand by stepping outside our U.S.- centered viewpoint. Haiti has a rich culture and history that can teach us a lot. Standing on a mountain at night in Fondwa under a sky full of stars is also an unforgettable experience. It puts hunting for a parking space in Los Angeles in perspective.
5. What are your future plans?
FATHER JOSEPH is more than a film for us, it’s a life-commitment, so Marcia and I will keep working with Father Joseph in a number of ways. I hope people will see FATHER JOSEPH, and check out the new initiative to support his work, Raising Haiti (http://apfusafoundation.org/raising-haiti-initiative.html). We’re also now shooting a new documentary about the groundbreaking playwright Terrence McNally.