I'm always interested in new accounts of life in Santo Domingo's barrios. Having done research there for more than a decade, I like to retain a sense of place: what's changed, what's stayed the same.
Johanné Gómez Terrero's new documentary, Caribbean Fantasy, reminds me that even though the quality of life in the poverty-stricken regions of Santo Domingo is improving, for many people living there life remains hard, and problems insurmountable.
Gómez Terrero's documentary is a love story of sorts that is set on the banks of the Ozama River. It is named after a cruise ship that travels regularly from Santo Domingo to San Juan, Puerto Rico, a journey that most barrio residents could never afford.
Ruddy, the male lead, makes a living by rowing passengers across the polluted Ozama River, from La Ciénaga (the location in which my book is set) to Barrio Oxígeno. Ruddy lives by himself in a small shack built right on the edge of the river. When the river floods, so does his home.
Ruddy's meagre earnings are just enough to get by and help out his girlfriend, Morena, with things she needs. Morena is married but has been in a relationship with Ruddy for eleven years. She tells us, the audience, that she started a relationship with Ruddy because her husband would not buy her the things a woman needs—trips to the salon, underwear, other nice things. In exchange, she cooks and cleans for Ruddy a couple of times per week. At first appearance it seems like an entirely practical arrangement, but on camera, the couple look very much in love.
The documentary does a great job of capturing a slice of everyday life in Santo Domingo's barrios. Making a living and making love work are constant themes in people's lives, and this story shows how those two themes are intertwined. Social relationships bring meaning and enjoyment to people who spend most of their time working hard and struggling to survive. For some, like Morena, love can also be a way to get ahead.
This way of life has been captured in several ethnographies based in the Dominican Republic, including Denise Brennan's What's Love Got to Do With It?", Mark Padilla's Caribbean Pleasure Industry, Steven Gregory's The Devil Behind the Mirror, and of course my own book, Materializing Poverty: How the Poor Transform Their Lives.
But the visual and audio format of a documentary provides something that books can't—a direct glimpse into the material environment and emotional experiences of the protagonists.Fore more about the documentary, watch the Caribbean Fantasy trailer or visit its Facebook fan page.