Jason Fitzroy Jeffers on His Film Papa Machete and the Art of Machete Fencing
Jason Fitzroy Jeffers has been a Renaissance man of sorts in South Florida. A musician and journalist, he recently changed his focus to filmmaking and his first official production, the short documentary Papa Machete has been steadily picking up momentum. This week it was officially selected for the Toronto International Film Festival's (TIFF) inaugural section of short international works, Short Cuts.
Concentrating on the life of farmer Alfred Avril, the movie explores his status as the last remaining master of tire machétt, a martial art created by slaves when combating Napoleon's armies, there is a poesy of protection and pragmatism as "the machete, which is both a weapon and a farmer's key to survival," transcends symbolism and hyperbole.
We spoke with Fitzroy about his experience with Third Horizon working on the film with the Borscht Corporation, Haiti and his latest musical endeavors.
Let's start off with the obvious. You have been a musician and journalist in South Florida for a long time... What can you tell us about yourself since Paradise Low?
Fitzroy: Wow, Paradise Low. I can't even listen to it without squirming a bit. I actually never stopped doing music; I just stopped putting it out. After I lost a number of compositions for my second album to a hard drive crash, and a record deal with an indie label fizzled, that side of me just shut down for a while and I've been focusing on my writing and production, which is tremendously fulfilling. That said, I do miss performing, and I am working on some new material.
What drew you to Haiti and machete fencing?
You and I have talked in the past about my machete obsession. I've always mythologized it in my own mind as the Excalibur of the third world, a symbol of determination and self-fortification yet to be fully realized. Back home in Barbados, we call it a cutlass or a 'collins' -- it's practically the pocketknife of the Caribbean.
I've featured them in a few of my music videos and also on the cover of Paradise Low. It blew my mind when I found out there was actually a martial art using the machete in Haiti called Tire Machèt. And it wasn't just flinging around blades; it is precise combination of African stick fighting and European fencing. It ripped my head open.
When was that exactly?
I found out about it when I came across YouTube videos of Mike Rogers of the Haitian Machete Fencing Project, who has been flying to Haiti for over 10 years to train with Alfred Avril, the only master of Tire Machèt in Haiti known to train foreigners. I immediately reached out to Mike and made plans to fly down with him to train. Soon, I was thinking about writing a magazine piece about my experiences, but that quickly gave way to plans to produce a short film.
My production partner Keisha Rae Witherspoon and I reached out to our good friend Jonathan David Kane to see if he'd be interested in directing. He's been a filmmaking force in this city for a while now, especially through his work with Borscht Corp. He was game. Other friends came on board as well: camera wizard Richard Patterson as director of photography and documentarian Joey Daoud as co-producer. We flew down to Haiti last summer and made it happen.