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Haitian Immigrants Clash with Dominican Forces in “Cristo Rey”

Ongoing conflicts between undocumented immigrants from Haiti living and working toward a better life in the adjoining island nation of the Dominican Republic, and the more recent hostilities this past summer with the deportation of Haitian men, women, and children born there to non-citizen parents, is the inspiration behind the new feature film, Cristo Rey.

A selection at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, this vibrantly shot and contemporary update of Romeo and Juliet, is a powerful indictment of the racism and poverty in the Dominican Republic. Set in the titular Santo Domingo shantytown, Janvier’s (James Saintil) mother is deported to Haiti after saving him from bigoted policemen. To make ends meet, the kind-hearted teenager of mixed Haitian-Dominican descent takes a job with local kingpin El Bacá (Leonardo Vasquez) as a bodyguard to his sister Joceyln (Akari Endo), who Janvier soon discovers dated his estranged Dominican half-brother Rudy (Yasser Michelén).

Upon discovering Janvier and Jocelyn have fallen in love and plan to escape the barrio, Rudy’s jealousy over their relationship, as well as his denial over his own Afro-Caribbean identity, sets in motion a series of events, which threatens their entire community. Director Leticia Tonos Paniagua’s vibrant visuals, reflect hope in a background of deep-rooted and explicit violence and prejudice against Haitians, which has permeated the Dominican Republic for way too long.

Romola Lucas of The Caribbean Film Academy (CaFA), shares, “For the third edition of the Caribbean Film Series, we desired to focus on a filmmaker from a Spanish-speaking country in the region.” She continues, “With the conflict gaining attention worldwide, and because of its perspective, we thought it was timely to show this particular film, along with a film from the Haitian perspective, to engage artists and the community, in conversation with each other.”

Co-presented by BAMcinématek and the Brooklyn Cinema Collective, in partnership with the Haiti Cultural Exchange, Cristo Rey will screen at BAM Rose Cinemas on Thursday, December 3rd, at 7:30pm. A Q&A with director Leticia Tonos Paniagua, will follow. The short film Purgatorio (12 min – 2014), by Haitian writer, producer, and director Martine Jean, precedes the film.

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