Interview with “Death by A Thousand Cuts ” Producer, Juan Yepes

1.      Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been in documentaries?

I am a film producer focusing on documentary film making and short films with social impacts with ample experiences in business management and entrepreneurship.

I have been working in documentaries for over ten years. As a producer and co founder of Human Pictures I have been involved in production and post-production of documentaries, including roles as an executive producer, production coordinator, field producer, and location coordinator.

2.     Can you give us a brief description about the documentary and how you came to produce it?

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.

Our approach was to reveal the topic from the personal story of Melaneo and his family to eventually bring in the big picture story in the island of Hispaniola and the environmental issues they currently face.

3.     What were you trying to achieve with the film, and how much did the documentary affect you personally?

The main objective of the film is to show how deforestation is affecting the island and how this is an example for the world to take care of natural resources. By comparing the dynamics between Dominican Republic and Haiti, we see how this is a very delicate situation that needs collaboration from both sides. The personal story of the park ranger we used is to show how global issues could affect all of us at a personal level.

The film affected me at a personal level; having spent time at the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti, it made me think how these situations are very delicate, and how we need to make an effort to communication and collaboratively find solutions to environmental problems. As documentary filmmakers we play a key role in investigating and bringing to light problems that we need to resolve together.

4.     How widely is the documentary distributed? Any Awards?

The Documentary premiered at HotDocs in Toronto, Canada and has been featured in festivals in different parts of the world. ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ was awarded the Audience Award at Doc NYC and the Grand Jury Prize at The Seattle International Film Festival. The documentary is going to be broadcasted in the US by the TV station Uni vision in 2017

5.     What challenges did you face in the course of producing the documentary?

Producing half of the documentary in Haiti was the main challenge, since Haitian Creole is not our main language. This made building relationships and looking for characters to tell the Haitian side of the story a complicated task. In the end by doing several trips with a focus on Haiti and building those relationships with the help of a local fixer, helped us give a voice to the Haitian community to understand their needs and how any solution will need to take their needs into account. 

6.     What would you like to do next?

As a producer at Human Pictures we are working on new projects and developing new documentaries. At the moment the main topics we are focusing includes the United States criminal justice system and transgender rights in US. We are developing a couple of documentaries that we hope we can start producing later in 2017.