The making of Tito
03 April 2023
Unlawfully imprisoned at the age of 17, Kervens “Tito” Jimenez escaped from the Haitian National Penitentiary following the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. He was rearrested in 2011, but during his period out of prison came into contact with a non-profit organisation which US producer Corbin Stone had been working for.
Stone had arrived in Haiti in 2011 with some modest filmmaking ambitions, but increasingly astounded by the condition of the legal system, knew there was scope for a larger project. The filmmaker and educator Taylor McIntosh, whom he’d met at a filmmaking course in Maine a few months before, was invited to assist him. Together they would work with Tito to ultimately create the Ammodo Tiger Short Award-winning film that shares his name. Stone and McIntosh caught up with us to share the story of the film’s origins.
“The camera was inside for two or three weeks.”
“He had been there [in prison] for a total of five years, had never seen a judge, never had an attorney visit him,” said Stone on their initial meetings with Tito. The pair would take him food and supplies and thought about making a documentary on the case, before Tito himself seized control. “You're able to have these sort of interactions with inmates,” recounts McIntosh. “We thought maybe we could film one somehow.” When they decided to take a GoPro to a visit, Tito saw the camera, and without any prior discussion, snatched it and snuck it into the prison with him. “I think the camera was inside for two or three weeks.”
Film still: Tito
“I've never seen anything like it or felt anything like it.”
The footage Tito collected, compiled and completed more than ten years after it was recorded, drags us into his life in prison. The images stick to his body as he surveys the prison with the undercover camera – rotating and contorting as we’re immersed in his confines. The dilapidated showers, overcrowded yard, communal sleeping areas and rusted metal of the prison bars are framed against his own presence and always with a powerful streak of defiance, like when he sings to the camera in his darkened cell. “I think that he somehow saw the opportunity of getting a camera as a way to let people know about his story and what was happening to him” considers Stone.
“I've never seen anything like it or felt anything like it”, says McIntosh. “We were just amazed that this had worked and that we got the camera safely out somehow,” Although the material was gathered over a two week period, Stone and McIntosh knew and worked with Tito and his case for over four years. McIntosh made an edit of the film within months of receiving the material, which they wouldn’t release for fear of worsening his situation.
With help from a human rights attorney, Tito’s case was dismissed and he was released from prison in 2015. Later, at the age of 25, Tito was murdered by members of his community for allegedly stealing a laptop.
“It’s primarily his film and his creation.”
“When we travelled down and buried him, I think the film in a way was buried too”, reflects McIntosh on the deep personal impact of Tito’s death. Years passed where they were torn over how to deal with the material, troubled by the possibility that his images might never see the light of day. Eventually, enough time had passed that they felt able to finish the film. “It never dwindled in emotion or feeling or power. It has always felt timeless in a lot of ways.”
The film premiered at IFFR 2023 and won an Ammodo Tiger Short Award, with the jury stating “Tito’s rare images of capture shake one to the core.” Reflecting on the prize, the filmmakers are clear on who it honours. “Taylor and I view ourselves more as messengers for his story and messengers for the film that he wanted to make.” The colour, the sounds and the chronology are almost all preserved in the way Tito recorded them, with some added contextualisation. The film’s opening images are the very first images Tito recorded as he tried to figure out how the camera worked. “It’s primarily his film and his creation and how he envisioned it when he shot it.”
Tito’s own words, recorded from a phone conversation, offer the most poignant reflection on the legacy of his images and the power of this work. “I feel better now!” he exclaims. “I would like to have a picture like that so I can put it in an album. And save it. And keep it… so I can show it to my kid and teach it to him, what type of life I was living in prison, and what was happen to me, and how it was happen. The camera is all we have."
Taylor McIntosh at the Ammodo Tiger Short Award ceremony
Ammodo Tiger Short Competition winners 2023
Three titles receive equal Ammodo Tiger Short Awards, each worth €5,000