by M.O.I. JR Valrey
A film that hit me hard in the heartstrings and that correlates to current events in the news is “Lalo’s House,” which deals with the trafficking of young girls.
U.S. headlines for the last few months have been consumed with the cases of Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelley and Jeffrey Epstein. Although the mega-sex predator Jeffrey Epstein has reportedly died under mysterious circumstances recently in jail, days after the court’s unsealed documents named a number of the world’s most powerful and famous people who fraternized with him, and the court has officially closed the case, one thing is evident: that this is a world-wide ring of sexual predators, and I would bet my life that it is not the only one.
“Lalo’s House” is the story of human trafficking in Haiti, which is the favorite playground of Jeffrey Epstein’s bestie, former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Although the film is fictional, it is based on true events that the filmmaker Kelley Kali experienced while her boots were on the ground in this island nation.
This is her story behind the camera. Come check her out at the Oakland International Film Festival on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 6:15 p.m., at the Regal in Oakland’s Jack London Square as a part of the Oakland International Film Festival. Go to oiff.org for more info.
M.O.I. JR: In the beginning of the film, it said that “Lalo’s House” was inspired by true events. Did you witness child trafficking in Haiti? Did you meet any survivors?
Kelley Kali: My background is in anthropology and film and I was in Haiti is 2009 researching children’s rights and living conditions. Then the next year the earthquake happened and I went back to help.
It was then that I caught wind of a “Catholic” orphanage where the “nun” was allowing foreign men to come and sleep with the children. As I continued to investigate, I couldn’t find her ordained by anyone and I was informed by many people who lived in the town that she was more of a mafia queen who had even placed hits on the lives of those who have tried to interfere with her business.
I have never met any of the survivors from her orphanage, but I have interviewed those who claimed to have hits placed on them by her and had since fled the country.
M.O.I. JR: What was your creative process like when you were writing, filming and editing your film? How much of it was done in Haiti?
Kelley Kali: Originally the film was going to be based around the time of the earthquake until one day I asked my co-writer, Yasemin Yilmaz, if she could help me find some Haitian children’s folk songs to consider for the film and she sent a song called, “Ti Zwazo,” which caught my attention.
The song said: “Little bird, where are you going?” “I’m going to Lalo’s House,” replied the bird. “No, don’t go to Lalo’s House! Lalo eats kids and will eat you too!”
I immediately thought to myself, “What is Lalo?” I learned that Lalo is the Haitian version of the Boogieman, but a woman who eats children. To me this was the perfect metaphor for the real nun who was allegedly trafficking children because she in essence was consuming the innocence of these young girls through sex trafficking.
For the camera work, my director of photography, Xing-Mai Ding, and I wanted to keep it handheld to make it feel real like a documentary and to reflect the instability of the children’s experience.
With the editing, my editor, Jeremy Deneau, and I made great efforts to create the suspense through the pacing of the scenes.
The majority of the exterior scenes were filmed in Haiti and the interior scenes were sets built on sound stages at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
M.O.I. JR: Why was this a story that needed to be told?
Kelley Kali: I have been trying to get this story and the concern about child trafficking out for 10 years now. I am so happy that the University of Southern California helped to give me the resources to tell this story properly, which has led to winning the Student Academy Award, the Student Directors Guild of America Award and many more.
We have also been accepted to prestigious festivals such as the San Francisco Black Film Festival, which gains us more exposure to help conversations ensue about child trafficking here in California and worldwide.
M.O.I. JR: How do you feel about not just all of the Christian orphanages, but the nonprofit colonization of Haiti, where foreigners are hired with money earmarked for Haitians to provide services but are not required to hire Haitians?
Kelley Kali: While the Catholic orphanage that this story is based on has more or less proven to be an unregulated, unauthorized organization, the issue of authorized NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in Haiti is a touchy topic. There are many organizations that may have originally had the intention of helping Haiti but, whether intentional or not, they end up not helping the Haitian economy because they don’t hire Haitians.
Some have given the reason that they (Haitians) are not trained for whatever the job may be. Some NGOs have taken the time to train Haitians in order to fill these job positions that in turn helps boost the economy and grow new skills, but many of the NGOs haven’t so far taken the time to take such measures which results in the money staying within the organization and overall not helping the people who they claim to be there to help.
I’m not an expert on this matter but I have spent enough time in Haiti to see some of these issues and this is why when I travel to Haiti, I do my best to support organizations that support, protect, and hire Haitians. Another concern about these organizations is that volunteers and workers aren’t always fully vetted and there have been many accounts of NGO and foreign aid workers paying for sex with Haitian children.
M.O.I. JR: Due to the fact that you are a media maker, what do you think about the usual depiction of Haiti on television or in Hollywood movies versus what you have experienced in Haiti?
Kelley Kali: When we embarked on making this film, one of the major intentions of me, my co-producer, Victor Pourcel, and my executive producers, Garcelle Beauvais and Lisa L. Wilson, was to show the beauty of Haiti while walking a fine line and still telling the truth that there is this darker issue of child trafficking that is hurting the country and the world.
Although the film is about child trafficking, it was very important to show that Haiti is a BEAUTIFUL country with BEAUTIFUL people because this is not shown enough through our media. This is why our two little girls in the film came from a loving and educated two parent home.
Haiti, like many countries, has different socio-economic groups and we chose to show a family who is doing well because many Americans don’t get to see the educated side of Haiti on film. I personally find Haitian education, for those who get to participate, to be impeccable.
I have worked with many Haitians who speak multiple languages and don’t even know what a multiple choice test is because the way they were taught was that you either know it or you don’t. I can’t always say the same for much of the U.S. education, so these stereotypes of Haitians being uneducated have always bothered me and we wanted to show another truth about Haiti in this film.
M.O.I. JR: How did you get one of the most famous actresses of Haitian descent to play a major role in your film?
Kelley Kali: I knew that I wanted Garcelle Beauvais to play the nun in this film mainly because most people know her as the lovable “Fancy” from “The Jamie Fox Show” and many other roles that she’s had over the years – but no one has seen her in a role like this. I wanted it this way because people who traffic children don’t look like traffickers – whatever that looks like. They oftentimes look like everyday people that you wouldn’t suspect.
The only issue was, I didn’t know how to contact her so I called everyone in my Howard University network and my University of Southern California network to try to track her down. Eventually it was a friend from Howard and USC, Ephraim Walker, who connected me to two Canadian producers, Marcel Jones and Howard Green, who then connected me with Garcelle.
When Garcelle read the script, she spoke with her producing partner Lisa L. Wilson and together they agreed that not only would Garcelle play the role but they would come on as executive producers to make sure that this story has the opportunity to get out to the world.
We were also blessed to have Jimmy Jean-Louis, associate producer, and his wife Evelyn Jean-Louis agree to allow us to use their amazing little girls, Jasmin Jean-Louis and Kyra Rose, as the stars of “Lalo’s House.”
We had so much support from the Haitian community on this film, which we are grateful for. The famous Haitian musician, Paul Beaubrun, came on to contribute some original music and a cameo, and Miss Haiti, Sarodj Bertin, came on as an associate producer.
M.O.I. JR: Have you shown this film in Haiti? What has the response been like?
Kelley Kali: We did premiere our film in Haiti and the response was powerful and full of emotion. A woman in the audience during the Q&A said that she hadn’t realized that the trafficking of children in these orphanages was going on.
Then a young lady stood up with tears in her eyes and told the room that this absolutely goes on because she grew up in an orphanage just like the one in the film and she witnessed those things happening to the other girls. She had gotten out before anything happened to her.
M.O.I. JR: Do you think you and the cast have reason to fear for your safety after the completion of this film? Why or why not?
Kelley Kali: The film has been touring Haiti, thanks to the U.S. Embassy and an organization called MobiCine Haiti, which provides mobile theater screens to rural areas that don’t have theaters. This is wonderful because they are able to educate parents and children about the dangers and signs of unregulated orphanages.
This is important because many of the children who are in orphanages in Haiti aren’t really orphans. Their parents had to give them up because they could no longer afford to feed them and sometimes, if the parents don’t know what questions to ask, their child can end up in an unregulated orphanage that can make them more susceptible to trafficking and other abuses.
The only downside to the film touring is that the word about the film and our efforts to stop unregulated organizations like these is out there, which results in us having to be more conscientious while traveling in Haiti because we are threatening the big business of sex trafficking with this film.
M.O.I. JR: Are you working on anything new? How could people keep up with your work online?
Kelley Kali: I am writing the feature version of “Lalo’s House” and preparing to direct other projects that uplift our community.
I can be found on
- Instagram: @iamkelleykali
- Twitter: @KelleyKali or @KelleyChatman
- Facebook: Kelley Kali