Bridging the Distance

How does a student 1,500 miles from home cope when disaster strikes? How does he offer help and hope across an ocean?

Huguens Jean ’12, Ph.D., electrical engineering, flew to Haiti in March 2010 to find Port-au-Prince still reeling from a devastating earthquake. The streets surrounding his childhood home felt foreign and distorted – unusually silent, filled with unfamiliar smells and crumbling buildings.

The earthquake struck in January, during the final days of his grandfather Andre Torchon’s battle with cancer. Travel to Port-au-Prince for the funeral became impossible. Two months later Jean was able to fly to Haiti with his brother, Clifford Muse ’11, information systems. Unable to fulfill their grandfather’s last request that they dress in white at his funeral to celebrate life’s joys, the brothers resolved to honor his memory in another way. They would capture on film the joys of life in Haiti, joys that endured even at a moment of profound national suffering.

The documentary Lift Up, co-directed by Jean and Phillip Knowlton ’03, visual arts, records their journey. It follows Jean and Muse as they build a kite in their grandfather’s honor, just like the kites they had flown with him as children in Haiti. A deeper look reveals Knowlton and Jean’s own journey as filmmakers, each traveling through uncharted territory to share stories of resilience in the face of profound loss with eloquence and compassion.

Read the full story in the Summer 2011 issue of UMBC Magazine.

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