‘Elza’ opens in a new Harlem theater

‘Elza’ opens in a new Harlem theater
Photo by Tequila Minsky

For director Mariette Monpierre, the current two weeks of screenings at MIST Harlem is particularly sweet. Not only is this a theatrical run for her debut feature film in an Oscar-qualifying theater, but the Elza screening is also helping launch a fantastic new cultural hub at 40 West 116th St, in Harlem. (And, it’s on the same block as the African Mart.) Elza is now playing daily at MIST Harlem until Dec. 14.

“The shooting was four weeks throughout Guadeloupe in April 2011 and beginning scenes were shot in Paris,” says Monpierre, who has a small part in opening scenes. This is the first feature film made by a Guadeloupean female.

The world premiere was appropriately in Guadeloupe, this past summer and the current New York run began November 29, the second day in the “soft opening” of MIST Harlem.

Autobiographically inspired, the film is about Parisian college grad Elza, who, to her mother’s intense disapproval, returns to Guadeloupe–her birth country–to find her biological father, a man who had abandoned her and her sister.

Parisian Stana Roumillac plays a nuanced Elza. Attending the Harlem opening night–her first time in New York, the audience learned during the Q&A that Roumillac quickly stepped into the role after the production had begun and when another Elza, miscast, was let go. Monpierre plays the disapproving mother.

In Guadeloupe, Elza stumbles into a job, using a false name, as a babysitter in her father’s household for his granddaughter. Up close, she and the audience witness the intense dysfunction in the family. The men in the family are cheating dogs. Race relations within the class structure are exposed. Her father is no prince. Yet in spite of what she experiences, Elza still obsesses for reconciliation. The story unfolds on an island of sun, sand, and sensuality.

The director received support from a number of entities for the film production including the Department of Guadeloupe and French TV and prior to this screening has been shown at a plethora of international film festivals, most recently in Brazil.

Previously, Monpierre directed the short film, “Sweet Mickey for President?” a portrait of Michel Martelly, Haiti’s current president, which won the Best Documentary award at the 2002 Reel Sisters Film Festival.

In New York, she also directed “Knowledge is Power,” commissioned by the N.Y.C. Department of Health to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and the film “Rendezvous.”

MIST Harlem is another example of the blossoming of Harlem. The ground-floor 21,000 sq. foot retail space of the Kalahari Condominium developed by Roland Laird includes a restaurant, a bar, and three theaters for live entertainment–music, film, spoken word and theatre-venues to showcase black and Latino arts and culture and a post-production studio for students.

The almost complete center is a technicians dream with state of the art equipment in a beautiful facility. Its strong sense of mission to serve the community is a source of excitement for all who enter, the committed programmers and other staff. MIST stands for “My Images Studios.”

A host of fundraisers, a reunion, a film retrospective, and musical programs are among the programs planned for the first weeks in December as finishing touches take place. The opening date for the restaurant has not been set.