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A film by Jake Kheel & Juan Mejia Botero

Runtime: 73 Minutes

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In DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS, the murder investigation of a Dominican park ranger by a Haitian charcoal producer reveals the complex, growing conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti in the battle for natural resources.


About the Film

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.

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.



"a compelling, well-made cry for greater empathy over fear and nationalism, featuring some truly evocative cinematography" - Phil Guie, Film-Forward

"Powerful...with universal consequences" - John Soltes, Hollywood Soapbox

"Beautifully filmed... a captivating film that shows links between environmental destruction and social catastrophe." - Maurie Alioff, POV Magazine


Awards & Festivals

WINNER: Grand Jury Prize - Seattle International Film Festival 2016

WINNER: Audience Award - DOC NYC 2016

WINNER: Best in Festival – Princeton Environmental Film Festival 2017

WINNER: Grand Jury Prize – Environmental Film Festival - Yale University 2017

WINNER Best Changing Planet Film: Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival 2017


About the Filmmakers

JUAN MEJIA BOTERO - Director/Second Camera

Juan Mejia Botero is an award-winning film director with over 15 years of experience in feature and short documentaries. His work has focused primarily on human rights abuses and struggles for social justice around the world.

He has worked extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean where he has directed a number of films around matters of forced displacement, ethnic autonomy, state violence, and the competition for natural resources, which have played widely in the festival circuit and also television.

Juan’s directorial debut, Uprooted, won a number of awards and aired nationally on PBS. His feature documentary The Battle for Land, was a winner of a production grant from the Colombian Ministry of Culture Cinema Fund and a postproduction grant from the Tribeca Film Institute.


JAKE KHEEL - Co-Director/Producer

Jake is a leader in the field of sustainable development. For over ten years he has diverse confronted social and environmental challenges in the Dominican Republic as Vice President of Sustainability of Grupo Puntacana and Vice President of the Grupo Puntacana Foundation, successfully implementing sustainability programs that have garnered the company many global sustainability awards.

In 2001, as a graduate student conducting his Master’s thesis, Jake saw firsthand the relentless deforestation in the Sierra de Bahoruco and the potential for conflict between neighboring Haiti and the Dominican Republic over this unique national park. This began a nearly two-decade interest in the Sierra de Bahoruco and its steady decline that eventually led him conceive of Death by a Thousand Cuts.

Jake has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Latina American literature from Wesleyan University.


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