Film Reviews

Review: ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs

Death by A Thousand Cuts
(USA/Dominican Republic, 73 min.)
Dir. Juan Mejia Botero and Jake Kheel
Programme: International Spectrum (World Premiere)

The vicious murder of a park ranger in the Dominican Republic (D.R.) horrifies the country, and the number one suspect is a Haitian. Like many Haitians, Pablo Tipal regularly crossed the border into the D.R., which unlike Haiti, conserved forests, to illegally hack down wood that gets burnt into charcoal, fuel for the poor.

The movie plays like a noir mystery. The ranger’s family, and the Haitian mother of his children, say he was loved by everybody. But some claim he aroused the poachers’ rage by hunting them alone and whipping the ones he caught. Tipal, who may not be the killer, is in hiding.

Also an exposé doc, Death by One Thousand Cuts reveals a more sophisticated charcoal racket with possible links to the D.R. government, now decimating its own forests. The story embodies the longstanding toxic relations between Dominicans and Haitians, who see the Republic as a land of economic opportunity where, in fact, they become exploited workers and tormented scapegoats.

Beautifully filmed, featuring overheads of border zone landscapes, Death by a Thousand Cuts surges forward, propelled by an evocative score. It’s a captivating film that shows links between environmental destruction and social catastrophe.

Death by a Thousand Cuts screens:
-Tuesday, May 3 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 6:15 PM
-Wednesday, May 4 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 4:00 PM
-Saturday, May 7 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 12:30 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

View all articles by Maurie Alioff »