We’ve already established that the Dominican Republic has a thriving young film scene, with wacky commercial comedies coexisting alongside arthouse indies and socially conscious docs. But Quisqueya la Bella has actually had a long relationship with film production stretching back over decades and owing much of its existence to Cuba’s prolonged economic embargo. Of course, we’re not talking so much about local productions, but rather about Hollywood’s consistent use of DR as a tropical backdrop and geographically convenient double for everything from the South Pacific to Southeast Asia — and of course, her enchanting neighboring island to west, Cuba.
At this point you’re probably racking your brain trying to remember what big Hollywood productions had some traces of Santo Domingo amidst the palm trees and colonial architecture, and the truth is there’s more than a few. Santo Domingo’s colonial center is an obvious favorite, while emblematic beaches like La Romana, and even the country’s Museo del Ambar have all provided inspiration for location scouts, directors, and studio execs shuttling in from Southern California.
Without a doubt you already know of some of these productions, others probably won’t be a huge surprise, while others still will definitely have you fast-forwarding through your old DVD collection in search of some clues. Here we’ve put together a brief list of some of the biggest and most recognizable productions that shot some footage on the island so you can begin your cinematic Easter egg hunt.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Whether or not you agree that it’s the greatest movie ever made, this epic spans three countries and two generations, showing the Corleone family’s humble origins in the hills of Sicily and the slums of New York while flashing forward to Michael’s attempt at expansion into the thriving mafia haven of Batista-era Cuba. Along the way the oddest thing happens — the Cuban people rise up and topple the corrupt, criminal government that gives these mafiosos free reign.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Director: George P. Cosmatos
After surrendering to authorities at the end of 1982’s First Blood, John Rambo is given a second chance at freedom under the condition that he return to Vietnam and document the existence possible American PoWs kept on after the war. Naturally, Rambo’s new job as a photographer doesn’t quite suit him, and after discovering the U.S. government’s hidden intentions he takes out the big guns and takes on everyone from the Vietcong and the Soviet Red Army, to condescending U.S. bureaucrats.
Fast & Furious: Los Bandoleros
Director: Vin Diesel
Vin Diesel jumped at the opportunity to direct this 20-minute short film situated in the Fast & Furious universe and featuring reggaetoneros Tego Calderón and Don Omar. Despite the film’s short run-time, Diesel manages to mix in anti-corporate politics, prison breaks, local corruption, hijacking, and a rekindled romance between Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and late-coming Leticia Ortiz, played by the indomitable Michelle Rodriguez. Oh yeah, and there are plenty of cars, of course.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
A river boat full of American soldiers makes its way up the Vietcong-held Nung River in search of an AWOL U.S. Army Captain who’s reinvented himself as a jungle demi-god. Their mission: terminate with extreme prejudice. As the crew make their way up the river, they are confronted with the ongoing disaster of the Vietnam war, until ultimately entering into a mystical headtrip guided by a deranged prophet played by a pontificating and severely overweight Marlon Brando.
Director: Steven Spielberg
A group of scientists working for a bioengineering company manage to extract dinosaur DNA from a jurassic-era mosquito perfectly preserved in amber. As any intelligent CEO would do, John Hammond decides to revive long-extinct dinosaur populations and create a family-friendly theme park on a private island in the Pacific. Everything goes horribly wrong.