For some time we’ve been hearing alarm bells about how imminent resource scarcity could thrust the world into turmoil. Even the CIA has listed climate change as a primary threat to global stability, precisely because a sudden crop shortfall or water shortage could plunge entire regions into chaos, playing into petty tribalisms and stoking the flames of armed conflict. But what if this near future, Mad Max-like worst case scenario were actually already here? What if some of the most pressing conflicts facing our world right now were not so much about race or religion, but actually about dwindling natural resources?
That seems to be the driving thesis behind the new feature documentary Death By A Thousand Cuts. Taking as its point of departure the brutal murder of a Dominican park ranger on the Dominican-Haitian border, Death By A Thousand Cuts takes us into the shadowy world of deforestation and charcoal trafficking that has escalated violence and ethnic strife throughout the region. Using a polyphony of voices, including Dominicans, Haitians, and Haitian-Dominicans who inhabit this blurry boundary that splits the island of Quisqueya in two, the documentary explores how cartel-like organizations have turned illegal deforestation into a flashpoint for anti-Haitian sentiment in DR. Further, it suggests that the country’s racist immigration laws are actually bound up with wealth inequality and the struggle for natural resources along the border region.
Directors Juan Mejía Botero and Jake Kheel have told this story in an attractive package, with powerful visuals that capture the expressive faces and poignant landscapes of the region. Filmed in a conventional documentary style, featuring interviews, archival material, and cutaways, Mejía Botero and Kheel nevertheless use these tools to chilling effect, creating a dense atmosphere of urgency, tension, and paranoia that seems to characterize life on the border. Helped along by a suspenseful musical score, Death By A Thousand Cuts feels a bit like a murder mystery, but ultimately goes much deeper into pressing questions that could define the future of our global society.
Death By A Thousand Cuts premiered earlier this year at the prestigious Hot Docs International Film Festival in Canada. The US premiere takes place during the Seattle International Film Festival on June 8 and 10. Keep an eye out for future screenings at the film’s Facebook page.