Good Dominican Films

By: Winnie T. Sittón
Photos : Courtesy  IFF Panamá

Miriam miente (Miriam Lies) and Sambá are two of the four films now showing on the IFF Panama Channel on board Copa Airlines planes (see the schedule on pp. 138). Both movies have attracted a great deal of attention and exemplify the excellent filmmaking currently being done in the Dominican Republic. Our brief review shows why.

Some years ago, the giants of Latin American cinema were Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico, since they had produced the first films to attract international acclaim. The situation has now changed. Over the last decade, Colombia, Chile, and Peru have muscled their way into the movies with successful films seen around the world. Just five years ago, a small Caribbean country quietly joined the group, positioning itself as one of the most interesting emerging film industries in Latin America: the Dominican Republic.

This success is the product of a long evolution: Dominican cinema will soon celebrate its centenary. Production was sporadic and rudimentary in the beginning, but the machinery began to hum in the 1990s, when the first local box-office hits appeared. The pace of production has increased thanks to the passage of the Cinema Law (2010), which led to the production of up to twenty films a year.

This climate has encouraged more intimate and personal stories in films that explore new styles and deal with different themes.

We now get films that break through the barriers of their own film tradition and travel beyond the borders of the island of Hispaniola to be exhibited at prestigious international festivals where Dominican cinema had never ventured. The films attracted both the public and critics, racking up awards that confirm the good state of Dominican cinema.

Two films that reflect the energy of filmmaking in the Dominican Republic are Sambá (2017) and Miriam miente (2018). Both productions are among the select feature films available on the IFF Panama Channel on the Copa Airlines onboard entertainment system.

Redemption through Boxing

Sambá is a sports drama that explores boxing as a metaphor for life’s constant struggle, through the story of a former convict named Cisco, who wants to redeem himself by conquering the boxing ring. A first visit to the Dominican Republic inspired Italian actor Ettore D’Alessandro to write the original script. He also co-produces the film and plays the part of a retired boxer who guides the main character on his violent road to redemption.

The film was directed by the creative filmmaking duo, Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas. Guzmán is Dominican and Cárdenas is Mexican. Their filmography includes works like Cochochi (2007), Jean Gentil (2010), and Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars) (2014), this last starring the famous Geraldine Chaplin. The two filmmakers run the Santo Domingo-based production company, Aurora Dominicana, and they have made various feature-length fiction movies that have earned their share of fame after being screened at well-known festivals in Venice, Toronto, Toulouse, and Miami.

Sambá is no exception. The film’s international debut got off on the right foot with its world premiere in the “International Narrative Competition” category at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, becoming the first Dominican movie to screen at this festival. Moreover, it garnered several awards and very good reviews during its long tour of Europe, South America, and the Caribbean and Panama.

A Little Tale of Discrimination

Miriam miente (Miriam Lies) is a deceptively simple story about a 15th birthday party. However, it gradually morphs into a family drama that lays bare the prejudices of race and class that persist in the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries.

The situation is seen through the keen eyes of an adolescent who does not know how to tell her family and friends that her boyfriend is not the blond, blue-eyed boy they expect to see at the party.

Based on an original concept, the film was written and directed by Dominican filmmaker Natalia Cabral and Catalonian filmmaker Oriol Estrada. Both are graduates of the International School of Film and TV (EICTV) in San Antonio de los Baños (Cuba). Together, they founded the production company Faula Films in Santo Domingo in 2012, and co-directed the successful documentaries: Tú y yo (You and Me) (2014) and El sitio de los sitios (The Site of Sites) (2016), which earned them prestigious awards and a certain fame in the industry.

Miriam miente, their first work of fiction, mixes new talents with experienced Dominican actors —like Pachy Méndez and Vicente Santos, who play the parents of the birthday girl— to weave a strong, convincing drama. There is no doubt that their efforts were successful: the film has won prizes, almost all in the “Best Picture” category, at various festivals, including Havana, Huelva, Gijón, and Toulouse. It also earned well-deserved nominations in Chicago, Seattle, São Paulo, Lima, and Guadalajara. A real hit.