St. John’s alumna Marlie Hall recently completed a documentary film depicting the plight of the residents of a remote section of Haiti.
Hall, who graduated from the College of Professional Studies in 1996, traveled to Sassier, Haiti on a week-long mission with a volunteer medical team. The 51-minute film, “Mission to Sassier,” shows the efforts of the eight-person medical team that treated approximately 600 people during their visit in March 2005.
“Not only is this the culmination of everything I love,” said Hall, “[but] creating this documentary required every major skill I’ve ever learned in my professional and personal life, from videography, writing, producing and editing to speaking the Haitian Creole language, relating to all kinds of people and working a story even in the face of extreme human suffering. In that way, I think I was meant to do this.”
Hall recently visited the St. John’s campus for a screening of her film in Chairman of the Mass Communications, Journalism, Television and Film Department Frank Brady’s contemporary cinema class.
“It was so gratifying to be back at St. John’s and to show this piece of work,” Hall said of the screening. “The best part of putting together a documentary and crafting a story that people need to know about is the reaction of your peers.”
Hall’s film brings a global spotlight to the plight of two Haitian villages and others like them around the world. As a result of Hall’s work, two more medical missions are planned for the spring and clinics are under construction in Sassier.
“The most satisfying part of my job as a teacher is seeing my students go on to become successful,” Brady told his class.
According to Hall’s documentary, there is only one physician for every 20,000 people in Haiti. One in five children die from malnutrition and the average life expectancy is 53 years.
Hall, who is of Haitian descent, had not been back to her country in nearly 17 years before the filming of her first documentary, which she wrote, produced and directed.
“The tragedy is that these people are dying from treatable diseases,” she said. “Many of them have never seen a doctor. They live the same way their ancestors lived 200 years ago, in primitive conditions without running water. The nearest hospital is a two-hour walk away.”
Hall, having worked in the news industry since a college internship at WLNY, a television station on Long Island, was no stranger to the conditions she faced in Haiti.
“I’ve worked in news and I’ve seen hardship, so I was able to deal with seeing such poverty,” Hall said. “Some of the patients walked more than an hour in bare feet over rocky terrain and rubble to reach the clinic.”
“The patients were willing to let me film their examinations and operations,” Hall continued. “They were very appreciative of the medical team’s efforts, and accommodating to my covering their plight.”
Hall made the trip to Haiti on her own expense. She learned about the medical mission from a friend of her mother who was a part of the medical team.
“As soon as he said it, I knew I had to go,” Hall said. “I was working for a couple of news organizations at the time and I pitched it to them and they weren’t interested.”
Hall, who had a great interest in the story, chose to go on her own after various media organizations failed to take interest.
The filmmaker took with her a three-chip Panasonic recorder while the medical staff she traveled with brought along nearly 900 pounds of medication, supplies and equipment. The team temporarily converted an old church into a health clinic, but lacked a laboratory and X-ray machine.
“I had never done a documentary before, but I knew I had to do something,” Hall said of her decision to go to Sassier.
“It was the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life,” Hall continued, in reference to what she experienced on the mission. “It was heartbreaking but heartwarming at the same time. Being in the news business for so many years, I’ve covered events from 9/11 on down and this was still [very] powerful.”
As a result of “Mission to Sassier,” Hall has formed her own production company, Princess Documentaries.
“I’ve worked in different mediums, but I found that this medium was the most gratifying,” Hall said of her new film career. “I definitely want to do more documentaries. I don’t know what the topic will be, but it will definitely be something that is dear to my heart.”