The murder provides a timely metaphor for the larger story of increasing tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic over illicit charcoal exploitation, as well as the emerging struggle over rapidly depleting natural resources leading to larger human conflict around the world.
Death by a Thousand Cuts explores the changing reality of communities along the Dominican-Haitian border, illustrating how deforestation cuts across the economic and social fabric of both countries with far-reaching consequences, largely unrecognized in either nation. Haiti’s long history of charcoal consumption has resulted in its deforestation, and, in the eyes of Dominicans, it is the driving force behind the illegal exploitation of Dominican forests.
The island of Hispaniola, once covered by forests and today the most populous island in the Americas, is home to one of the most perturbing stories of deforestation on the planet. Less than 2% of Haiti's forests remain and although the Dominican Republic bolstered forest coverage by about 25%, it's remaining forests are highly threatened. Deforestation is a key contributor to climate change, destruction of biodiversity, destabilization of topsoil and contaminating the water tables. The toll of an eventual ecological disaster has urgent economic and political consequences: impoverishment, uncontrolled migration, disease and civil strife.
This documentary uncovers how the lives of Dominicans and Haitians along the border are enveloped in a complex web of relationships that reflect a mutual dependence on charcoal trafficking and the forest resources that produce the charcoal. As in most struggles for natural resources, the fight for survival leads to clashes between communities. These clashes come to reflect the struggle for resources at a national and global level, which when taken to extreme scenarios like in Rwanda, Darfur and Liberia, can lead to deadly consequences.
JAKE KHEEL, Co-Director, Producer: For over 15 years, Jake has been intimately involved in the area of environmental protection in the Dominican Republic. Jake has directed research and educational programs all around the country, including the Sierra de Bahoruco where he did his Masters thesis as a student at Cornell University. It was also here that he developed a profound concern about the deforestation he was seeing along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Jake has vast experience in managing interdisciplinary environmental projects, conducting media and public awareness campaigns as well as in community work. Currently Jake is the Environmental Director of the PUNTACANA Group and the not-for-profit PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation. His environmental protection work in Punta Cana has been widely documented both nationally and internationally. Both of the organizations he heads have won numerous awards and praise under his leadership as environmental administrator. Jake has a Masters degree in Environmental Administration from Cornell University and an undergrad degree in Spanish and Latin American Literature from Wesleyan University.
JUAN MEJIA BOTERO, Co-Director/Second Camera: Juan Mejía Botero is an award winning film director with more than a decade of experience working in short and feature length documentaries. His focus is community, grassroots media and collaborative documentaries.
Juan, from Bogota, Colombia, immigrated to the United States where he earned a degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Swarthmore College, a Masters degree in Latin American Studies at Texas University and another Masters in Social Documentaries from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
As a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, Juan traveled, lived and worked as a facilitator of community video in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Ecuador. His documentaries are profoundly influenced by his collaboration with grassroots organizations throughout the regions where he has worked.
His debut as a director was the documentary, Uprooted, that tells the story of an Afro-Colombian family displaced along the Pacific Coast of Colombia. The film, which won various prizes, was shown in festivals in the United States and internationally then later broadcast on PBS.
Juan has directed several short and longer documentaries on such issues as forced displacement, ethnic autonomy, state-sponsored violence, natural resources and other human right issues. His films have been widely viewed in festivals and on television. His most recent feature length documentary The Battle for Land won a production grant from the Ministry of Culture, the Colombia Fund for Cinema and a post-production grant from the Tribeca Film Institute. It is expected to be finished in 2013.
Film Credits: Director/Writer: Juan Mejia Botero and Jake Kheel
Producers: Ben Selkow, Jake Kheel, Juan Yepes
Cinematography: Juan Carlos Casteneda
Editor: Human Pictures