Releasing an unprecedented average of 20 homegrown films a year since 2014, the Dominican Republic held its first cinema confab, the Congreso Nacional de Cine, over March 24 – 25, where authorities and the audiovisual sector convened to hammer out ways to build on some of the most impressive gains in the Caribbean or Central America.
Per findings from public-sector film entity DGCine, the Dominican Republic made a profit of nearly $50 million from combined earnings stemming from foreign location shoots, box office sales of local pics, and taxes collected between June 2011 and June 2016.
Thanks to the 2010 film law’s tax incentives for local and foreign productions, more filmmakers have tapped private investors to make their films. The Dominican Republic film law offers a freely transferable tax credit of 25% based on a minimum investment of $500,000 on qualified international productions in the country. VAT and custom duties are exempted from eligible production-related expenses.
Investors in Dominican features may deduct 100% of their investment, subject to a cap of 25% of the income tax otherwise payable.
The results of increased private investment in local cinema are more than dramatic in a country that saw an average of two-to-three homegrown films a year for nearly three decades prior to the film law. “I couldn’t have made my film without the support of the law,” said Jose Maria Cabral, whose latest pic “Carpinteros” (“Woodpeckers”) is closing IFF Panama and is the first Dominican film ever to have competed at Sundance.
“Being able to secure more funding allows me to invest in more shoot days, more crew, and make riskier projects,” he said, although he has made broader more box-office friendly comedies to reassure investors as well. Film Factory, which boarded “Carpinteros” at Ventana Sur is about to close two to three deals for the pic.
The country has seen a glut of comedies in recent years, many of which have outperformed Hollywood pics. In 2015, glutton comedy “Tuberculo Gourmet” outdid “Fast & Furious 7.” Its sequel “Tuberculo Presidente” was also number one in the box office last year, outpacing “Batman vs. Superman,” which came in at number three.
“Some of these comedies aren’t very good, they imitate the worst of Hollywood, but some good documentaries are being made,” said Nelson Carlos de los Santos whose drama “Cocote” is competing at IFF Panama’s first-look section, Primera Mirada.
“We are living exciting times in DR filmmaking, in 2017, we finally won access to class A film festivals,” said Marichal, listing Cabral’s “Carpinteros” at Sundance; Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas’ “Samba,” in competition at Tribeca and Yanillys Perez’ (“Jeffrey”) acceptance at Cannes’ L’Atelier for her project in development, “Candy Town.”
Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios, a state-of-the-art water tank facility run by Lantica Media, is building smaller sound stages to accommodate limited-budget productions. Led by VP Alberto Martinez, two of Lantica Media’s films have recently shot there, “Amigo D” and “La Barberia,” with more local productions in the works. In January 2016, “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” made use of the studio. Jonas Cuaron’s “Z” (“Zorro”), a reboot of the Zorro franchise, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, “will most likely start principal photography in the fall,” per a Lantica Media spokesperson.
Pinewood DR has also been actively training crew, especially for its water tanks. Six film schools have popped up, the latest being the Altos de Chavon Film School, which opened in January. DGCine has invested up to 34 million pesos ($719,000) in audiovisual-themed workshops, seminars and courses between 2014 and 2016.
“A whole new generation of talent is emerging; we’ll have to increase the film fund or deploy other measures to accommodate them,” said Marichal.
Traveling to Florida the next morning from a staff retreat outside Pittsburgh, Telemaco thought of Ramon Ramirez, Sandy Acevedo and Jose Rosario, three minor-leaguers who all died on Dominican roads in the span of three months last year. He thought of Oscar Taveras, the heralded St. Louis Cardinals prospect who died while driving drunk on a Puerto Plata freeway during the 2014 World Series. He also thought of all the people who die behind the wheel every day in his homeland—and decided to make a play for change.
A major-league pitcher from 1996 to 2005, Telemaco reached out to a friend with experience in graphic design. At 1:25 p.m. on Jan. 27, he sent out a tweet announcing the creation of a new campaign he calls Ni Uno Mas—Not One More.
“I just want to be a voice to be heard, a voice so people can understand that we need to pay attention,” Telemaco said. “We should not be drinking and driving. We should not be driving when we’re tired. We should have someone there when we drink. We should not be texting and driving.
“This is stuff we can avoid.”
Telemaco’s nascent efforts quickly received support in Dominican baseball circles. Last month, Telemaco and three other recently retired players—Octavio Dotel, Miguel Batista and Francisco Cordero—spoke to a group of teenagers and their parents at a special event in Santo Domingo.
Each of the four players addressed a different topic: Telemaco talked about the role of spirituality in making smart decisions; Dotel offered guidance in how to overcome adversity; Cordero emphasized the significance of knowing who to trust and let in to your inner circle; Batista talked about the importance of an academic education, even for aspiring ballplayers.
Around the same time, another event in La Romana, Telemaco’s hometown, featured Cleveland Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion, another local native, discussing how to behave and handle friends and family after coming into money.
“Somebody needs to step up and do what they’re doing,” Encarnacion said. “Because we need it.”
The Dominican Republic, a nation of roughly 10 million people that shares a Caribbean island with Haiti, is among the most dangerous countries in the world for drivers.
About 29 out of every 100,000 inhabitants die in traffic-related incidents, the most in the Western Hemisphere, according to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, the WHO ranks the country a 2 on a 10-point scale in drunk-driving enforcement and a 3 out of 10 in speed-limit enforcement.
“Instead of roads to connect one city to another,” Telemaco said, “our highways are a valley of death.”
The challenges can be even greater for baseball players, who become local celebrities the moment they sign their first professional contracts, often as teenagers. Many come from poverty, where even a modest signing bonus can be life-changing.
That can cause problems that transcend baseball. Batista said when players sign, families often believe “they just won the lotto and have the chicken with the golden egg,” resulting in unwanted pressure and discomfort.
Seattle Mariners third-base coach Manny Acta, who manages a team in the Dominican winter league, said these pressures can cause young players to struggle with trust and “think whoever is trying to help them out is trying to get something out of them.”
All this is taking place in a culture where “one of the status symbols is getting a nice car,” said Daniel Szew, an agent who exclusively represents Latin American players. He said that young players sometimes drive around with no destination, just to show off their souped-up vehicles. Telemaco says young players will sometimes buy a fancy new car after signing, even if they don’t have a license.
To be sure, some of these concerns are universal. In the past 15 years, all four major sports leagues have suffered the loss of an American player in auto accidents involving alcohol or speeding, or both.
Even though the causes of all the players’ accidents in the Dominican Republic are not clear, the dangers of driving there are undeniable.
“Success is not easy to deal with,” Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista said. “Especially when you come from nothing.”
Teams try to educate their young Dominican players about these dangers, with several pledging to redouble their efforts in light of this winter’s tragedies.
Joel Lithgow, who runs the New York Yankees’ Dominican academy, says the organization runs weekly seminars focused on such issues, as does virtually every other team. Acta said that he tells his players to hire a personal driver if at all possible, emphasizing that he never drives himself while in his home country.
But there’s only so much teams can do. Players have the right to go home to their families in the off-season. Often, that means driving. While the boilerplate player contract prohibits many activities, like skydiving and wrestling, driving isn’t one of them.
“Will teams start looking more rigorously at behaviors when players go home? Perhaps,” Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns said. “But I don’t know that it’s a team’s right to take away something as fundamental as a player’s ability to drive his own car.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league has “comprehensive programs” in place, from educational and developmental sessions in the Dominican all the way up to employee assistance programs and security briefings at the major-league level. MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark expressed similar sentiments, adding, “Educated players make educated decisions.”
Some former players say it’s not enough.
“You can say whatever you say you have, but the results are not showing, which shows you should try harder,” said Batista, who last played in 2012. “It’s going to take more investment and care.”
Telemaco’s group aims to address the problem at the root, well before young players sign pro contracts. He will travel to the Dominican in early April, where he plans to meet with a representative from the country’s Ministry of Sports in hopes of receiving government support for Ni Uno Mas.
Next winter, Telemaco and his group plan to travel the entire country delivering their message. Current players have expressed interest in joining up.
“This is a movement,” Telemaco said.
Write to Jared Diamond at email@example.com
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