'Madan Sara' is an intimate portrait of the women underpinning Haiti's economy

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By Katya Spiers, Film & TV Digital Editor

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of a Madan Sara. Perhaps you haven’t either. The eponymous documentary by Haitian journalist Etant Dupain is going to change that.

On a bleak December evening at the tail end of 2020, I spoke to the filmmaker about Madan Sara and what it’s been like navigating the minefield of online screenings during the pandemic. This nimbly-crafted documentary, which will be screened online and in festivals this year, is a heartfelt depiction of the lives of the Madan Sara, the women whose tireless but often unappreciated work underpins much of Haiti’s economic activity.

The role of the Madan Sara is to buy and sell fruits and vegetables, but it’s no simple affair. Waking up before the crack of dawn, travelling long distances on foot and receiving little financial reward are trivialities. The unflagging devotion of the Madan Sara is completely unacknowledged by the central Haitian government, and alongside customs seizing their goods and market fires that ravage entire communities, these are women for whom risking their lives is ingrained in their daily routines. ‘Haitian women are the most mistreated, despite working the hardest,’ Dupain explains.

A Still from Madan Sara | Courtesy of Etant Dupain, Madan Sara Film

Dupain’s mother was a Madan Sara, so his connection to their work is deeply personal – and you can tell. Each shot filmed over the five-year recording period renders clear the intricacies of the communities that these women support. The Haitian government might trivialise their impact, but Dupain does not.

When asked what prompted him to tell this story, Dupain said that it came naturally to him, ‘I’ve always wanted to add something to the conversation surrounding the structural violence faced by the Madan Sara; I wanted to move things forward.’

For these women, supporting an entire country is just one part of their daily routine

Alongside interviews with multi-award-winning novelist Edwidge Danticat and economist Camille Chalmers, Dupain looks through the lens of the Madan Sara to paint an unapologetic picture of the gruelling realities that are faced by local communities in Haiti. A particularly heart-breaking scene shows the aftermath of a marketplace-fire, ‘Everything is burned,’ exclaims a woman who has just lost all of her money to the fire, ‘there is no one looking out for us.’

A still from Madan Sara | Courtesy of Etant Dupain, Madan Sara Film

‘People do a very poor job of understanding the impact of this sector. I wanted to tell them, “There’s something bigger going on here,”’ Dupain explains. ‘Madan Sara is an introduction to Haiti, to the real Haiti, without destroying the stories of the people who support the country.’

There’s only so much insight you can gain into a country by reading the news. Inviting the audience to sit face-to-face with these powerful women whose demanding jobs uphold entire communities, many of them single mothers, puts faces to the stories that are all too often reduced to statistics. As one woman explains, ‘If we don’t bring food to the people in Port-au-Prince, people in the capital won’t be able to eat.’ The resulting film is an inspiring, poignant story of strong women whose work is wholly under-appreciated – something that we can all relate to, regardless of where we are based.

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While we find ourselves still in a third lockdown, sitting in much the same position as we were almost a year ago, it can be easy to feel lonelier and more lethargic than ever. Madan Sara invites us to experience a different way of life, and appreciate the inspiring stories of the women for whom supporting an entire country is just one part of their daily routine.

Madan Sara will be screened for free on Monday, 8 March to celebrate International Women’s Day, tickets are available here.

Featured: Etant Dupain, Madan Sara Film


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