With the second largest Dominican population in the world after Santo Domingo, New York isn’t a bad place to hold a Dominican Film Festival. Throw in a wealth of cultural institutions and tens of thousands of New York cinephiles jonesin’ for their next dose of global cinema, and it’s a match made in heaven for the Dominican Film Festival in New York (DFFNY) – which over five editions has brought the tri-state area some of DR’s most shining cinematic achievements.
Of course, much like the the Dominican Republic’s fast-growing film industry, the DFFNY is still a relatively young festival, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to look back at some of the greatest hits to come out of this yearly celebration of Dominicanidad in the Big Apple. To that end, the folks behind the festival have announced a special three-day program showcasing the best of the DFFNY, which essentially amounts to a look back at five watershed years that have seen DR’s film industry mature into a regional force both at the box office and on the festival circuit.
With a total of fourteen films ranging from comedies to crime thrillers, documentaries, and arthouse hits, it can be hard to sort through everything and plan out your weekend, so we’ve put together a list of a few highlights that should ensure a little something for everyone.
First up, festival phenomenon Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars) comes from husband-wife directing duo Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, and stars Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie and a brilliant actress in her own right) as an elderly French tourist who falls in love with a young Dominican woman and makes plans to move her back to France. Based on a French novel of the same name, Dólares de arena may seem like a typical story of tropical romance told through the eyes of a white foreigner, but the bachata-fueled feature is equally, if not more interested in the predicament of the young Dominican woman, played by Yanet Mojica, and the shady power dynamics that may be at work.
Then, if you’re looking for something more high stakes there’s 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.
If you’re in the mood to dance, check out the documentary Yo Soy La Salsa. Beginning with the events leading up to the birth of the genre, the film celebrates the life of one of salsa’s most-celebrated musicians: Johnny Pacheco.
And finally, for a little slice of Dominican cultural history, the recent mega-production María Montez will be kicking the whole affair off on opening night. Functioning as a rather straightforward biopic of the first Dominican actress in Hollywood, María Montez was shot on a budget that’s estimated to be upwards of $2.2 million, making it one of the biggest Dominican features to date.