|Directors:||Juan Mejia Botero, Jake Kheel|
|Presented by:||Participant Media, Documentales Univision|
|Producers:||Jake Kheel, Ben Selkow|
|Executive Producers:||Jeff Skoll, Belisa Balaban, Christy Spitzer Thornton, Isaac Lee, Juan Rendon, Eric Douat|
|Co-Producers:||Nadia Pollard, Juan E. Yepes|
|Production Companies:||Tarasios Production in association with Human Pictures|
|Cinematography:||Juan Carlos Castañeda|
|Country:||USA, Dominican Republic|
In Death by a Thousand Cuts, Eligio Eloy Vargas, alias Melaneo, a Dominican Park Ranger in the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park was found brutally murdered by machete. At the time, he was believed to have been on patrol investigating an illegal charcoal production site often run by Haitians coming across the border into protected Dominican forests. This murder becomes the metaphor for the larger story of increasing tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic over illicit charcoal exploitation and mass deforestation: the alleged murder weapon itself being the same tool used to chop down Dominican trees by the thousands.
With stunning cinematography, Death by a Thousand Cuts is a feature-length documentary film that is a double-murder investigation, seeking to learn about the circumstances of Melaneo’s death and the systematic eradication of the Dominican forests. The film interweaves the many sides of the story of Melaneo’s murder told through: his Haitian wife Calina, brother Chichi, local reporter Luis Medrano and a Haitian Nené working as a Dominican park ranger, all representing different perspectives on a complex socio-political issue. In parallel, the film explores the larger backdrop of the rapidly changing reality on the Dominican and Haitian border due to the illegal charcoal trafficking trade. Deforestation cuts deeply across the economic, social and security fabric of both countries and has far-reaching consequences that are largely unrecognized in either nation.
As the film digs deeper into the murder of Melaneo, environmental activist Dr. Yolanda Leon helps uncover how the lives of Dominicans and Haitians at the border are enveloped in a complex web of relationships. Industrial-scale Dominican complicity in illegal charcoal production and mass deforestation is unearthed. As in so many global struggles for natural resources, the fight for survival leads to scapegoating, xenophobia and clashes between communities marked most recently by anti-immigrant policies passed by the Dominican Republic. These clashes come to reflect the struggle for resources at a national and global scale, which when taken to extreme scenarios can lead to the persistent cycle of ethnic civil conflict and international violence.
Juan Mejia Botero is an award-winning film director with over a decade of experience in feature length and short documentaries. His work has focused primarily on human rights, activist, grassroots media and collaborative documentaries.
As a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, Juan traveled, lived, and worked as a community video facilitator, guiding grassroots media projects in Colombia, Brazil, Perú, Chile and Ecuador. His documentary work has been deeply influenced by his community media work as well as his long-standing collaboration with grassroots organizations throughout the region. Juan’s directorial debut, a medium-length documentary “Uprooted,” about the life of a displaced Afro-Colombian family in the Pacific Coast of Colombia won a number of awards and played widely in film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. It was then aired on PBS as part of the Afro-Pop series.
In addition to directing Death by a Thousand Cuts, Juan has directed a number of short and long format documentaries around matters of forced displacement, ethnic autonomy, state violence, natural resources and other important human rights issues, which have played widely in the festival circuit and television. His latest film, the feature documentary The Battle for Land, winner of a production grant from the Colombian Ministry of Culture Cinema Fund and a post production grant from the Tribeca Film Institute is nearing completion and expects a 2016 premiere.
Juan has a BA in anthropology from Swarthmore College, an MA in Latin American Studies from UT-Austin and an MA in Social Documentary from UC-Santa Cruz. Juan is currently the Social Documentary Director at Human Pictures.
Jake Kheel is a leader in the field of sustainable development. For over ten years he has confronted social and environmental challenges in the Dominican Republic as Vice President of Sustainability for Grupo Puntacana, successfully implementing sustainability programs that have garnered the company nearly every existing global sustainability award: The World Tourism Travel Council “Tourism for Tomorrow” award, The Conde Nast Traveler “World Saver’s Award,” The Travel & Leisure “Global Vision” award, and The National Geographic Traveler “Leader in Sustainable Tourism Award.”
Jake is also Vice President of The Grupo Puntacana Ecological Foundation, where he helped pioneer one of the Caribbean’s largest coral reef restoration projects and created several market-based community development projects. He helped design and implement Zero Waste, the Dominican Republic’s first and largest corporate recycling program. He directs the Center for Sustainability, a think tank that works with some of the world’s best universities to conduct research and devise experiments related to sustainable development.
In 2001, as a Cornell graduate student, Jake Kheel researched the impact of deforestation in the mountains along the Dominican-Haitian border. Based on his Master’s thesis, in 2011 he developed the concept for Death by a Thousand Cuts, a feature length documentary film that looks into a Dominican park ranger’s gruesome murder and unfolds into a larger exploration of illegal Dominican-Haitian charcoal trafficking, mass deforestation and escalating human conflict on the border.
Jake regularly speaks at symposia and conferences on sustainable development and has keynoted several international conferences. For the last 8 years Jake has written a monthly environmental column in the one of the mostly widely read Spanish-language newspapers in the Dominican Republic, El Hoy. He has been published in the Harvard Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies journal “ReVista” and other academic journals and popular media. He serves on the board of half a dozen environmental associations and foundations.
He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from Cornell University and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Literature from Wesleyan University.
"Beautifully filmed, featuring overheads of border zone landscapes, Death by a Thousand Cuts surges forward, propelled by an evocative score. It’s a captivating film that shows links between environmental destruction and social catastrophe.”
Maurie Alioff, POV Magazine
"a well-shot documentary, with a compelling narrative"
Sean Kelly, Toronto Film Scene