Five Questions With... Christy McGill, producer of SERENADE FOR HAITI

Since 1956, Sainte Trinité Music School has brought classical music to thousands of Haitians. Its director, Father David Cesar, has made music education accessible through programs all around the island nation. In the wake of Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake, the school is destroyed—but Cesar, his faculty, and their students refuse to let Sainte Trinité disappear. Filmed over seven years, SERENADE FOR HAITI is a testament to resilience, hope, and the power of music.

We spoke with producer Christy McGill about the process of working on the film. Read more below, and join us for this moving and powerful documentary on Thursday, June 22 at 11:15 AM and/or Sunday, Jun 25 at 9:15 AM!

NFF: How did the film come to you? Had you worked together before?

Christy: I knew Owsley as a friend and fellow filmmaker I very much admired, and we had been bouncing around a different idea for a film when we met for lunch in San Francisco 2011. My background is in screenwriting, story, and creative producing and I was looking forward to the possibility of a creative collaboration with him.  Our conversation that day, though, centered around his Haiti film. He was at an important crossroads in the project-- the earthquake had such a catastrophic effect on the music school he had been filming for years, and the film had, of course, irrevocably changed direction. Once I saw some of his footage in his offices, I was completely drawn in. We decided to work together to find pathways for the film's narratives, and I signed on to help produce.

NFF: Can you talk a little bit about how the earthquake affected shooting?

Christy: At the end of 2009, Owsley and his cinematographer, Marcel Cabrera, had finished a 2+ year shoot in Haiti, and had returned to SF to begin sorting through the footage and transcribing interviews from Haitian Creole and French into English. They may have thought they might need a pick-up shoot, but they were pretty much wrapped. A few weeks later, the massive earthquake struck, and the whole situation was profoundly changed. I had never been involved in any project that had that kind of turn, and I was deeply impressed that Owsley committed to open the film up and return to chronicle the story of the music school in really unstable conditions there.

NFF: Shooting took seven years total, correct? Had you committed that amount of time to a project in the past, or was this unique?

Christy: I hadn't projected the project would continue as long as it did. I returned with him and small crew in 2014 to field produce what became the last third of the film, and I am so grateful he was willing to keep shooting, as the 7-year sweep that the film encompasses really fills out the story with much more dimensionality.  It was a very unique and challenging story to nurture-- weaving together what was one former film idea, with material from after this just massive disaster. We had a really great team-- fellow Producer Anne Flatté and incredible editors, Gina Leibrecht, Eva Brzeski, and Jeff Boyette. Everyone was very committed.

NFF: What impact do you think music and art can have society?

Christy: This is the crux of the film's message for me-- the incredible power and almost mysterious agency of music and art itself to transform a single person and an entire community. I've seen this film now so many times-- countless-- and I am moved every time by the potency of this message. The students (some as little as four years old!) and the tireless faculty of this classical music school literally will their lives forward through the commitment to music and their art. Not just the learning and performing of it, but the sense of self and purpose it generates within them. There is also the important identification with their own country's music. (Haiti has a just incredible musical heritage which comprises much of the film's soundtrack.) Art, and in this case, music, is absolutely essential to humanity and the best expression of our society we can muster. Anywhere.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Christy:  I am so excited to be in Nantucket! I was fortunate to spend several summers with my family on the island-- on Brant Point and one summer in Sconsett for parents anniversary- and these are among my most cherished memories. The island has this totally timeless feel and remarkable, singular beauty. I think also, the sense you have of being way out to sea does something to everyone there. It's magic. And films in their best iteration can be, too-- so it's a perfect combination. The programmers of NFF are also among the best in the industry, so we feel enormously privileged and very happy to be participating.