When it comes to art, the Dominican Republic has gifted us several mediums of enjoyment. They’ve given the world genres of music like merengue and bachata, a groundbreaking fashion designer like Oscar de La Renta, and epic musical entertainers like Cardi B and Romeo Santos. But did you know that we are all sleeping on another facet of Dominican art that totally merits our attention? If you haven’t peeped the title of this article yet, then get ready because we are about to put you on to Dominican movies.
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A Gringa-Campesina Studies Dominican Cinema
However, before we hop into all things Dominican film, let me preface this article with some context.
In the summer of 2017, I did coverage on the Dominican Film Festival in New York for the late La Galeria Magazine. If this film festival isn’t already on your radar, make sure to follow their social media for the next one, as it’s the premier screening opportunity for several Dominican filmmakers across the world to showcase their work. They’re also one of the few places we can count on to show Dominican movies. More on them to come. Keep reading!
The slogan for the festival that year was “Somos mas que merengue y bachata! Somos Cine!” Yes. We are more than merengue y bachata. We are cinema.
After a red carpet featuring Dominican actors, news anchors, directors, and producers, we all made our way into the United Palace for the opening film. But before that, they showed a video promoting the Dominican Republic as the go-to destination for filmmaking. Once the video was over, the audience broke into a heartfelt round of applause as the creative director of the festival announced that the Dominican Republic was aiming to become the “Caribbean Hollywood.” As a young Dominican-American studying film, I was HYPE. I had never been in a space where people from the motherland were actively creating and showcasing their work! And I wanted more… So in my senior year of college, I applied to the Fulbright research fellowship, assured that I was going to win an opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic for the first time to research folklore and cinema.
And I won the research fellowship. And I watched A LOT of Dominican films. Now let’s get into it.
History of Dominican Film
Given the tumultuous history of the country, the Dominican Republic’s film history is fairly brief in comparison to some other countries. Not sure what brief history I’m talking about? Check out our Dominican Culture and Important History article for the quick rundown.
The first ever Dominican film was La Leyenda de Nuestra Señora Altagracia (Francisco Arturo Palau, 1923). It is a 20-minute drama shot on 35mm film and takes inspiration from the solemn act of coronation of the Virgen de la Altagracia, patron saint of the Dominican Republic. Consisting of four acts, the film shows the devotion of Dominicans to la Virgen. It’s an excellent example of how spiritual folklore informs cinema.
Film production in the Dominican Republic halted from the 1930s to the 1960s. Can you guess why? If your answer was “… Trujillo?” then you are correct! He was not a fan of the films and feared that they’d be used to criticize his regime.
After the death of Trujillo, the Dominican Republic saw a boom in film production within the country in the 1970s, except the people making the films weren’t Dominican. Government members who still had loyalty to Trujillo did not allow for films that spoke badly of his dictatorship to be produced. Foreign filmmakers saw the potential of the island’s climate and geography for filmmaking (for the same reasons California is Hollywood) and thus The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola,1973) and Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979) were shot in the Dominican Republic.
From the 1980’s comes one of the most notable Dominican films, Un Pasaje de Ida (Agilberto Melendez, 1988). Keep reading for more on this film and why you must watch it.
From the 1990s to 2010s, Dominicans did with film what they know how to do best– make people laugh. Thus the rise of Dominican TV shows, comedians turned actors, Boca de Piano, etc. While comedy dominated the industry, few documentary films and dramas came out that are worth the watch.
Today: Understanding the Ley de Cine & “New Age” Dominican Cinema
The Dominican Republic Film Commission (also known as DGCine) exists under the Ministry of Culture but is a decentralized institution with financial and technical autonomy. Its purpose is to “encourage the development of the Dominican film industry, and at the same time position the country as a destination for locations for foreign productions.” DGCine also administers FONPROCINE, a unique opportunity for Dominican filmmakers to receive funding for their films.
In 2011, the Ley de Cine was created to encourage Dominican filmmakers to enhance the quality of their film industry. What does that mean? Dominican filmmakers seeking monetary means to shoot their feature-length films could be funded by national businesses, and foreign filmmakers receive a 20+ percent tax cut.
One cool result of La Ley de Cine is that it opened up several film-related jobs for the public. At a talk that I attended in September 2018 at the UTESA Centro de Convenciones in Santiago, the current leading lady of Dominican cinema, Nashla Bogaert, shared with the audience an interesting tidbit. Women she knew who usually did makeup for their friends and families at holidays and parties for fun, were suddenly able to use that skill set to professionally do makeup for films.
La Ley de Cine is important to understanding Dominican film history because it switched up the game for a lot of filmmakers in the Dominican Republic, allowing them to have their projects fully funded and distributed across Dominican cinemas.
Streaming Services to Watch Dominican Movies
If you’re not living in Santo Domingo or Santiago then you probably don’t have immediate access to Dominican movies. The AMC adjacent movie theaters are Caribbean Cinemas and Palacio del Cine. If you’re in the country, these theaters offer international and local films to watch. But for those of us not there, it can be incredibly difficult to find Dominican movies.
Luckily you have us at Dominican Abroad to put you on to some Latinx streaming services! Please note, some of these will incur a small cost to watch. But why not support the Dominican film industry by streaming their films wherever in the world you are?
- Pantaya has an immense catalog of otherwise hard-to-find Latin American movies. They currently have $1 for 3 months deal, which is plenty of time to watch some of the films on this list.
- Pelidom is a personal favorite as it housed several of the films I had to watch during my research. It is the first of its kind Dominican streaming service, with just about the classics you need to understand the early history of Dominican cinema. They currently have a $10 for every 3 months plan which compared to a lot of other streaming services, is a STEAL.
- Amazon Prime houses some of the more recent Dominican films, but do tend to have a cost to rent or buy. I’ll tell you now so there’s no confusion– rent it. And then tell your friends all about it and have them rent it too. Support Dominican art!
- HBO Max has been loving Dominican cinema these past couple of years, with a small but mighty collection of recent Dominican movies available to watch. It’s my absolute favorite thing that I don’t need to be in DR to watch my two favorite Dominican films, and I can watch it from here in the United States.
Festivals to Watch Dominican Movies
Dominican Film Festival in New York ★
If you are a Dominican living in NYC, you need to attend this festival at least once. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch films being made by Dominicans around the world and to meet some incredible artists and creators. At this festival, I was able to watch Carpinteros, REINBOU, El Proyeccionista and El Fantasma de mi Novia, ALL films that I recommend!
La Libelula Dorada, International Film Festival
I had to include this festival in case any of you are ever in Santo Domingo in October. Not only do they showcase and premiere Dominican feature films and competing short films, but they screen films from around the globe and create a wonderful space for cross-cultural exchange.
Let’s move on to the fun stuff.
23 Best Dominican Movies + Where to Watch
For the purpose of this section, I’ll be labeling the films as classics and new age. Please note that this is completely subjective (until we have more film scholars casting their eye towards the Dominican Republic, reach out if that interests you).
- “New Age” will refer to films made recently and outside of typical themes of Dominican storytelling
- “Classics” will refer to films Dominicans across the globe probably recognize
- “Diaspora” will refer to films made by folks of the Dominican diaspora
Films without a label simply exist in this liminal film space that I do not have the vocabulary for yet.
Now, if you’re a fan of Dominican Abroad, you may notice some of these recommendations from our Dominican Culture article or our Traveling to the Dominican Republic guide. And we got you with some more:
Carpinteros (new age) – Combining romance and drama within the setting of a real-life prison called La Victoria, this film is a must-watch for its rugged cinematography and powerful performances. It was also the Dominican Republic’s first film to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival! Available to watch on Google Play.
Reinbou (new age) – A young boy retraces the history of his dead father to the Dominican Civil War of 1965 with the help of a magical book. If you’re like me and absolutely adore magical realism, this is the film for you. Available on HBO Max.
Cocote (new age) – An evangelical Christian man returns home to mourn his murdered father. This film is perfect for those interested in learning more about the different expressions of Dominican spirituality. Available on Amazon Prime via Topic.
Hotel Coppelia (2019)
Hotel Coppelia (new age) – This film is so good we even made a TikTok about it. It tells the story of a group of Dominican sex workers whose brothel turns into a site for revolutionaries during the second United States invasion of the Dominican Republic. Available on HBO Max.
Veneno: La Primera Caida, El Relampago de Jack (2017)
Veneno: La Primera Caida, El Relámpago de Jack (new age) – This film is a fictionalized telling of the life of popular Dominican wrestler Jack Veneno. The film has impressive fight scenes, the perfect amount of magical realism, and the most talented actors in the Dominican film industry involved. Available on Amazon Prime.
Miriam Miente (2018)
Miriam Miente (new age)- I had the pleasure of viewing this film at a movie theater in the country with two close friends. This coming-of-age story stars a young Dominican woman as she approaches her quinceanera and begins to spiral into a web of lies she creates to explain her mysterious and MIA dance partner.
My favorite thing about the film is its hues of purple and blue sprinkled throughout and its plethora of close-up shots will make you feel connected to Miriam, despite all her lies.
Currently unavailable for streaming, so keep your eyes peeled for any festival screenings of this film.
Andrea (classic) – Alright so I will keep it a buck* with ya’ll– there are polarizing opinions on this film, but I think we can agree across generations that this is a Dominican film classic. This film was one of the first films from the motherland that I was ever shown, and perhaps that’s where my intrigue with the occult and folkloric themes of magic started. The movie follows the titular character Andrea, as her family attempts to heal her of a demonic force that’s taken over her body. The movie tackles themes of love, betrayal, death, revenge, and legacy. Available on Youtube.
*Read our guide: New York Slang Every New Yorker Should Know
Dolares de Arena (2014)
Dolares de Arena (new age) – This film explores the complicated relationship between a young Dominican woman and basically… her foreign sugar momma. Her character is played by Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine Chaplin. Cinematographically beautiful, with an excellent soundtrack and breathtaking shots of a motoconcho ride, I recommend this film to anyone who wants a calm watch and a romanticized look at a troubling and common dynamic.
La Gunguna (2015)
La Gunguna – This film has one of the coolest openings I’ve seen in Dominican cinema thus far. The film connects random people who all have the same intention: to get their hands on a cursed pistol that once belonged to Trujillo. Currently unavailable for streaming, but I’m sure you’d find it somewhere on the internet if you looked hard enough.
El Fantasma de mi Novia (2018)
El Fantasma de mi Novia (international) – I had the pleasure of watching this movie at the Dominican Film Festival in 2019. It stars international novela sexy superstar William Levy, who can… wait for it… SEE GHOSTS! His character comes across the liminal comatose ghost of a famous Mexican TV actress who is laid up unconscious at a hospital after traveling to the Dominican Republic to film a movie. This film was a fun watch especially because of Boca de Piano’s role as Levy’s afterlife friend and guide. Plus, you get to hear Levy try on a Dominican accent! Available on Prime Video and Pantaya.
Un 4to de Josue (2018)
Un 4to de Josue (new age) – Despite the film taking place in a Dominican high school and there being almost zero teenage actors, I absolutely adore this film for its colorful cinematography and #diaspora representation. The Pineapple Diaries star Paloma Valenzuela is my favorite character– the protagonist’s best friend. She plays a Dominican from the States attending high school in the Dominican Republic! Currently unavailable for streaming but so worth the watch if you can ever get your hands on it.
Nueba Yol (1995)
Nueba Yol (classic)- This film is a must-watch for any child of Dominican immigrants in New York. The film follows the life of Balbuena, a Dominican man who finally gets his shot at the American dream. However, he soon realizes New York isn’t as dreamy as it’s made to be. Available on Vimeo.
Sanky Panky (2007)
Sanky Panky (classic)– I remember being a kid and the adults in my family and neighborhood raving about this film all the way in Queens. I don’t even know how they got a copy of the DVD. It tells the story of Genaro, a Dominican dude who takes to resorts to find a gringa that will help him achieve the American dream and out of DR. Another classic Dominican story that is hilarious to watch, but signals the importance of the American dream to Dominican culture. Available on Pantaya.
Los Paracaidistas (2015)
Los Paracaidistas– This film has a soft spot in my heart. Twas a thundering night in my fathers apartment in Jarabacoa, and I happened to have my projector and Pelidom subscription on me. We set up the projector on a white wall and sipped on champurradas while watching Boca de Piano aka Fausto Mata and Cheddy Garcia play wedding crashers. Genuinely hilarious and a fun watch with the family. Available on Pelidom.
Perico Ripiao (2003)
Perico Ripiao (classic) – As someone who studied the importance of folklore on Dominican film, this movie is a personal favorite because it’s about three Dominican dudes who escape prison, each with nothing but one of the three national instruments: the guira, tambora, and accordion. They attempt not to get caught while picking up gigs and jokes along the way. Available on Pelidom.
Un Pasaje de Ida (1988)
Un Pasaje de Ida (classic)- One of the most important films in the Dominican film catalog is based on the heartbreaking true story of Dominican stowaways in a cargo ship on their way to Puerto Rico. Un Pasaje de Ida shows one reality of some Dominicans who risk their lives for better opportunities outside of the country. Available on Pelidom.
De Lo Mio (2019)
De Lo Mio (diaspora)- Starring Dominican-American comedians Sasha Merci and Darlene Demorizi and Dominican actor Hector Anibal, this film explores the relationship between three siblings as they empty their grandparents home in the Dominican Republic. The way the film is shot feels like an ode to the Dominican-American experience, with long shots of greenery, a night out at the colmado scene, and big brothers awaiting your arrival with Presidentes in hand. A must-watch for Dominicans from New York. Available on HBO Max.
Vampires vs. The Bronx (2020)
Vampires vs. The Bronx (diaspora) – This film is such a fun watch as a Dominican from New York. It’s main star and vampire hunter, Jaden Michael (who played young Colin Kaepernick in Ava Duvernay’s “Colin in Black & White), a young Dominican kid who notices some sus vampiric behavior happening in his neighborhood. It’s excellent commentary on gentrification, and The Kid Mero stars as the bodega owner we all needed growing up. Available on Netflix.
Raising Victor Vargas (2002)
Raising Victor Vargas (diaspora)- This film is considered a New York City classic, and a cultural marker of the Dominican-American identity in the 1990s and 2000s. It follows the story of Victor Vargas growing up in the ‘hood and his Dominican family while he navigates his first love. Available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
El Proyeccionista (2019)
El Proyeccionista (new age)- Yet another Jose Maria Cabral entry here, and this is one of my personal favorites. The twists and turns make this film a jaw-dropping ride through the Dominican Republic, especially since the film is about a projectionist who travels the countryside to show films. Timeless Dominican actor Felix German and newcomer actress Cindy Galan captivate you with their seamless chemistry alongside a powerful and twisted story. Available for purchase on Amazon Prime.
Romeo Santos: King of Bachata (2021)
Romeo Santos: King of Bachata (diaspora)- If you are a fan of Aventura, Romeo Santos, or bachata in general, PLEASE WATCH THIS FILM. It’s a documentary on the making of Romeo Santos’ album Utopia, where he invited the OG bachateros to collaborate with him on music in their respective styles. We get a sneak peek into the creative process, the history of bachata, and Romeo Santos’ pivotal role in the global success of this Dominican genre. Available on HBO Max.
Additional Resources for Dominican Film
La Boca Filmica
La Boca Filmica is a podcast available on all platforms, started by some close friends of mine in the Santo Domingo film industry. They cover films from all over the globe, but often have special guests who are well versed in all things Dominican film. Check them out on IG, @labocafilmica.
Cinemadominicano.com This website has all the information you need on premieres, film festivals, award winners, and Dominican films.
If you ever find yourself in Santo Domingo, check out Cinema Boreal. Owned and managed by the directors of Dolares de Arena, La Fiera y La Fiesta, and Yoeli En Los Paises, this local indie film theater is intrinsic to the industry. While living in Santo Domingo for my research, I taught screenwriting and premiered my short film there. You can check their IG out, @cinema.boreal, for upcoming screenings and events in Santo Domingo.
The Cinemateca Dominicana operates under DGCine, and archives all Dominican films made in the country. These films are available to watch at their library and at live screenings hosted by DGCine across the city of Santo Domingo.
That’s All Folks! …For Now
Dear reader, the wonderful thing about films is that new ones are constantly being made. These recommendations are just a few from the wide pool of Dominican films available to watch. We’ll make sure to update our recommendations as more films are released so you know exactly what and where to watch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greisy Genao (she/they) is a published poet and filmmaker from Queens, NY with a BA in English Writing and Film Studies. As a Fulbright U.S. Student Researcher, she has conducted research on Dominican folklore and film in the Dominican Republic. Their award-winning film work has been celebrated across the Dominican diaspora and praised at film festivals from Santo Domingo to New York City. Greisy has also produced “Stories of the Diaspora,” a series dedicated to capturing the narratives of multi-generational Dominicans in New York. As a multidisciplinary storyteller, Greisy seeks to explore and honor the connection between folklore and nostalgia as it appears in the hyphenated Dominican experience. Follow Greisy on Instagram @Grei-mg.
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