About the Film
In Haiti, there is one band that’s seen it all: Septentrional. For six decades, this 20-piece band has been making beautiful music – a fusion of Cuban big band and Haitian vodou beats – that turns out thousands of fans each time it plays. At the age of 62, Septentrional has already survived 12 years longer than the expected Haitian lifespan. Led by 80-year-old “Maestro” Ulrich Pierre Louis, its trumpeters, drummers, sax players, and guitarists have played through dictatorships, natural disasters, coup d’états, and chaos, navigating the ups and downs of Haiti’s history. The band embodies a particular Haitian trait: the ability to find beauty in places of darkness.
When the Drum is Beating interweaves the extraordinary story of Septentrional’s six decades of creativity with the history of Haiti. How did the country go from being the first free black republic with a huge wealth of natural resources to a shattered nation unable to support its citizens? How did the hope created by the rise of Jean Bertrand Aristide and the despair that followed the coup that drove him from power contribute to the inevitability of the January 2010 earthquake’s horrific death toll? The film gives context to the current problems facing Haiti, from the brutality of French colonialism and the bloody revolution that brought Haitians their freedom to the crushing foreign debt, the 15-year American occupation that ushered in the brutal dictatorship of “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and the earthquake that killed almost 300,000 people. The passion, commitment, dreams, and joy of Septentrional’s musicians reveal the indomitable Haitian spirit. With a sweeping narrative and infectious music, this is the story of not just one band’s survival, but also Haiti’s survival.
Whitney Dow is an award-winning filmmaker whose directing credits include Two Towns of Jasper, I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown vs Board of Education, Unfinished Country, and When the Drum is Beating. His work been screened and broadcast all over the world and received numerous honors including the Peabody, a Columbia DuPont, Gotham, and Beacon awards. Dow’s producing credits include Freedom Summer, Banished, and The Undocumented, all directed by Marco Williams; and Toots, directed by Kristi Jacobson.