Cinema arrived to the Dominican Republic in August of 1900, when entrepreneur Francesco Grecco toured the Caribbean showing the newest invention of the Lumiére brothers, the cinematograph. The first Dominican films were made in the early 1920’s by Francisco Palau, a photographer and publisher. His first short feature, La Leyenda de la Virgen de la Altagracia, was created with the assistance of photographers Tuto Báez and Juan Alfonseca, and historian Bernardo Pichardo. It tells the story of a Dominican legend of a 16-century Virgin Mary painting. This film was released on February 16, 1923. The second Dominican film ever made, Las Emboscadas de Cupido, was a lighweight comedy about young lovers who want to unite despite lack of consent from the parents, and come up with a plot to achieve their goal. It was produced by the same creative team and was released on March 19, 1924.
The first use of sound in Dominican cinema came in 1930, in a newsreel about the inauguration of President Rafael Trujillo. Unfortunately, the dictator was set on completely suppressing all artistic and cultural manifestations, allowing only what in his mind benefited the totalitarian regime. Because of this Dominican cinema, and art in general, was for thirty years completely devoted to praising the dictatorship. Solely in 1953 thirteen documentaries were created by Rafael Augusto Sánchez Sanlley for the purposes of the regime.
This condition lasted until May 30, 1961, when Trujillo was assassinated and his dictatorship came to an abrupt end. As early as 1963, the first full-length Dominican feature film was released; La Silla, by Franklin Domínguez. It dealt with the horrors of the Trujillo regime and their impact on human relationships. In 1967 two important documentaries were released by Max Pou and Eduardo Palmer: Nuestra Historia and El Esfuerzo de un Pueblo. From then on, movie production in the Dominican Republic went forward artistically unconstrained. Many features dealt with the regime and its aftermath, a notable example being the Trujilloseries in the 1990’s. Their creator, René Fortunato, is well-known for his work on documentary.
Another important theme in the Dominican cinema is the immigration to the United States, usually consisting of illegal attempts to reach Puerto Rico first, and then to travel into the mainland. The most notable film in this group is Un Pasaje de Ida (known as A One-Way Ticket in English) by Agliberto Meléndez, released in 1988. This drama tells about a 1981 tragedy, when 40 Dominican immigrants bribed a ship’s crew to let them on board so that they could get to Puerto Rico without being caught. Their plan is ruined, however, and the crew let all the men drown in order to destroy evidence. This movie, and many others, express deep disappointment and criticism of the situation in the country that led people to such desperate attempts at escaping.
Despite of the heavy burden of history, contemporary Dominican cinema boasts numerous comedies as well as dramas and documentaries. Among the best known ones are: Cuatro Hombres y un Ataúd (or Four Men and a Coffin, dir. Pericles Mejía), ángel Muñiz’s Perico Ripiao and Nueba Yol, Los Locos También Piensan by Humberto Castellanos and Un Macho de Mujer by Alfonso Rodríguez. As of 2006, dozens of new movies with international releases are in production in the Dominican Republic and it can be clearly seen that Dominican cinema is finally getting worldwide recognition and applause.
Some other on-line resources about Dominican film: