The Director of Box Office Hit ‘Las Gunguna’ on How Dominican Cinema Is Booming

Courtesy of La Gunguna

For several years, we’ve had the pleasure of bringing you the latest news from the Dominican Republic’s growing film industry, which has matured by leaps and bounds since a favorable film law was passed back in 2012. Amidst a diversity of styles and audiences that have begun to crystalize, commercial filmmakers have nevertheless shown a marked proclivity for slapstick, motormouthed crime capers starring actors like Fausto Mata or Jalsen Santana. Indeed it’s become something of a brand for DR cinema, and local audiences have shown their gratitude by regaling their criollo industry with ever increasing box-office receipts.

But there’s still plenty of room to grow, and first-time filmmaker Ernesto Alemany has shown the world exactly what a more mature commercial cinema might look like in DR with his debut feature La Gunguna. Named after a Haitian demon who sucks the energy out of her carriers, the title of La Gunguna also clearly plays with the word “gun,” which happens to be thematic connective tissue for a series of disparate narratives that comprise the film. Over the course of 87 minutes the titular gun — supposedly gifted by Mussolini to Trujillo in the dark days of dictatorship –changes hands several times, giving us a stylish look into an over-the-top criminal underworld ranging from shady dealers on the Haitian border all the way to Chinese mafiosos down in the capital.

Of course, being a first time filmmaker doesn’t mean that Alemany hasn’t been sharpening his tools as a commercial and music video director for the better part of a decade — and La Gunguna has all the slick visual stamps of commercial language. Narratively, the film is clearly in league with fragmented storylines like Iñárritu’s early work with Guillermo Arriaga, and in fact, La Gunguna was based off a short story penned by Alemany’s good friend Miguel Yarull. Their collaboration has been so successful since the film was released last summer, that they already have another feature slated for release in DR later this year.

Screened as part of the programming at the recent edition of the Havana Film Festival New York, Alemany and a handful of actors followed up the presentation with a lively panel discussion. Covering everything from the future of Dominican cinema to Cibaeño accents, there was no shortage of insight from the chat. Here are some highlights.

On Literary Origins

The story started as a short story in a book written by a good friend of mine since we were kids, and I was living out of the country in Argentina when I got the book. And I was entrapped right away because the way it was written it was very eay to see it in images, it was very vivid the way all the characters and situations were described. It was actually very easy to see it as a film. And we started working on the script, and we spent two years working on it and developing what was already there.

On Keeping it 100

We made no effort to neutralize the slang or the accents. Just like we learn about Spanish culture and Argentines and Mexicans by watching the movies, we thought this was a good opportunity for the world to know something about us, how we talk, the slang, and just be honest about it.

On Not Being Based On a True Story

Of course it’s true that Trujillo went to visit Franco back in ’54 — that’s a historical fact. And it’s also true that he met privately with part of Mussolini’s inner circle, and I got that story first hand from somebody who was actually there. He was the father of some friends I have back in Santo Domingo, he was the official photographer of the trip, he was good friends with Trujillo. So it’s true that he met with the inner-circle of Mussolini, but it’s not true that they gave him a gun, they just gave him I guess some pizza and pasta. [laughs] Though it is possible. Franco gave him a sword, a silver sword with a handle, it was impressive.

Actor Isaac Saviñon On Getting Out Of the Capital and Getting Into Character

The second week we filmed, I took my car and said, “Man I need to go to Moca, and I need to listen to the people, the accent.” And for two hours I played pool and I drank beer, and I felt like a Mocano soul, in something like two hours, and twelve beers.

On Boom Times for Dominican Cinema

[The Dominican film industry] is not big at all, it’s like a big family. You see all the credits in all the movies and you’ll see how much overlap there is. It’s like one big crew that works on every film. It’s not that big yet, but it’s getting there. Ever since we got the film law, which allows us to raise funding to make movies has become easier. Ever since that happened, the film school has like quadrupled. It’s growing and I think that maybe 10 years from now we’re going to able to produce simultaneously five films a month. Not all of them local, because we don’t have the market for it, but it’s booming.