The synergy between the Caribbean and the European Union is key to supporting a quality national cinema

On 23 September, 2013, an extraordinary event occurred in the Dominican Republic. In a ruling viewed throughout the Caribbean and beyond as a human-rights catastrophe, the country’s constitutional court voted to denationalise all people of Haitian descent born in the DR after 1929. Everyone born after that year without at least one parent of Dominican blood — most of the entire Haitian-Dominican population of a million people — was retroactively rendered stateless.          

Last September, too, another event of significance to the Dominican Republic took place, one not unrelated to the court’s decision. Cristo Rey, the second feature film written and directed by rising DR filmmaker Leticia Tonos, had its world premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival.

Leticia Tonos is not just one filmmaker among many. She is the first Dominican woman to make a feature film, La Hija natural is also a committed artist who has made several films for various non-profit organizations.

Cristo Rey follows the fortunes of two young people in love: Janvier, who is of mixed Haitian and Dominican blood, and Jocelyn, a Dominicana. Janvier and Jocelyn live in the barrio of Cristo Rey (Christ the Redeemer), where casual discrimination and police harassment — as is the case throughout the DR — are commonplace for the Haitian and Haitian-descended population, and violence is not unknown.

Asked why she chose such a topic, Leticia Tonos replied that Haiti has always been part of Dominican society. "Whatever happens there, we feel it here, it's a fact", she explains. "Contrary to what most people may think, our relationship with Haiti has not always been confrontational; there are many aspects that must be taken into account. As a filmmaker, I have always been a little obsessed with the exploration of our identity, what makes us this thing we call "Dominican". To find the answer to this question, it is impossible to leave Haiti aside", she concludes.

According to the director, "the contribution of the ACPCultures+ Programme has not only represented a significant financial support, it also provided institutional support that allowed government institutions to see the project with different potential. This is crucial to the development of our industry. ACPCultures+ is becoming a motivating factor for the Dominican government to support films that truly address social issues", says Tonos.

"My career as a director has really taken on a new dimension with the film and funding of ACPCultures+. But this is the case for most of the people who worked on the project, about a hundred artists and technicians. The fact that the film was selected at the Toronto Festival, the 3rd festival at world level, gave the entire team tremendous visibility. The presence at the festival allowed us to sell the film to many TVs and VOD platforms" confides the director.

Throughout the implementation of the project, there was a very good interaction between the Dominican Cinema Center (DGCINE) and the production. The Cinéma Center supported and promoted the film, especially at the Cannes Film Festival. It should be noted that for the first time, thanks to the film, a delegation from the DGCINE was present in Cannes in 2013.

The film had an undeniable impact on the local industry. The producers chose to enhance and support the new postproduction structures in Santo Domingo, choosing to do the calibration and mixing in the Dominican Republic and not in France, as originally planned.

Besides training local staff, the realization of post-production in the Dominican Republic allowed the director to better follow the finalization of the film. The French delegate producer, Sergio Gobbi, stayed longer to make the artistic decisions that had to be made in agreement with the director, especially at the editing stage.

Besides the Dominican Republic, the film was also shot in Haiti, and the entire post-production was made in Santo Domingo. The project benefited to the local population (extras, internal barrio security service, and rental of all scenery within the barrio) and to all technicians and Dominican and Haitians actors engaged in production.

The film was also beneficial in terms of training the"shooting" technicians. "A number of technicians had already been engaged on our previous French Foreign Affairs tour in the Dominican Republic", recalls French producer Elisabeth Bocquet. "The latter having little experience of a filming classical and professional have benefited from previous know-how to professionalize on Cristo Rey", she emphasizes.

The action benefited all the local providers: equipment rental companies, recording studios, laboratories, various providers such as canteen, car rental...

This film definitively legitimized the professionalism and cinematographic know-how of the partners, in particular the company Linea Espiral and the company CID with the DGCINE.

"The action, in view of its results, undeniably confirms that the synergy between the Caribbean and the European Union is essential to support a quality national cinema that differs from the telenovelas that would tend to cover the markets of the ACP countries and in particular the Caribbean. The training given to the local technical teams is bearing fruit and a real cinematographic know-how of technicians and actors is set up in the Caribbean. Professionalization of teams, cinematographic equipment growing, all this perpetuates and empowers a local cinema in the Caribbean", confides Elisabeth Bocquet.

Asked about the lessons learned during the implementation of the project, Leticia Tonos replied that there are several positive elements that could serve as examples for other cultural operators.

According to Tonos, "we must really take the time and strive to develop the project well. When you do not have enough money, time can be your best ally. Funding is a key element, but it is not the only aspect that counts. It takes a long time to develop the scenario, investigate the legislation and regulation of cinema in each country", she explains.

It is then necessary to study carefully the strength of each co-producer and design the work plan accordingly. "It is essential that each party undertakes to operate according to highly professional standards, in particular as regards the exchange of information. Even if your budget is not very high, with new technologies and effective project management tools, you can save a lot of money and time,", says the Dominican director.

What could have worked better? "Undoubtedly the distribution abroad", explains Tonos. "The film was selected at the Toronto Festival in September 2013 and was distributed in the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean in December of the same year by the distributor and operator Patrick Mallegol of the company CARIBBEAN CINEMAS. This operator owns approximately 60% of the cinema park in the Dominican Republic and also covers Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands. In France, the film was released in January 2014 attracted fewer spectators than expected. Internationally, we were clearly victims of the bankruptcy of our partner and French co-producer, Films de l'Astre. For that, I would say that it is important for ACP producers to keep control, as far as possible, of the distribution of the film, in order to maximize revenue flows. The sales agent presented the film mostly in genre festivals, I think tihs was an error. An ACP art and essay film can have a very long life, appear on several festivals and go out in several territories in a delayed way. It is not necessary, for low budget films, to go out simultaneously on many screens. A single release date is not necessarily the best solution. Having control of distribution and sales, allows low budget films to afford a second life in several countries. For the future, I would say that it is important to think to the market first, and to the history", stresses Leticia Tonos.

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December 23, 2016
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