Cultura y conciencia

With Camera in Hand, Etzel Báez Keeps Alive the Memory of a Crime

Cine, FilmNelson SantanaComment
Photograph : Courtesy of Etzel Báez 

Photograph: Courtesy of Etzel Báez 

By Esendom                    October 18, 2017

Interview with Dominican filmmaker Etzel Báez (Constanza, Dominican Republic) about his film 339 Amín Abel Hasbún. Memoria de un crimen [Amín Abel Hasbún. Memory of A Crime, 2014] which deals with the state-sponsored murder—47 years ago this year— of Dominican student leader of Palestinian descent Amín Abel Hasbún during the right-wing government of Joaquin Balaguer. Actor, journalist and theater director, Etzel Báez is responsible for organizing cultural events that havecontributed to educating the public about cinema such as el Festival del Minuto [The Festival of the Minute]. With this film, Báez has captured another episode that the guardians of the official history in the Dominican Republic insist in erasing from collective consciousness.

Tell us about the circumstances that led you to direct a film about the murder of Amín Abel Hasbún during Balaguer’s Twelve Years regime.

My motivations are those of any artist to bring to life what he has in mind, but the difference is my perception of reality and the necessity to generate political and ideological memory with those who fight for the welfare of the Dominican people.


How did the creative process take shape during the shooting of the film?

Mainly by intuition. When one directs a film like this one many difficulties present themselves because one thing is what you write and rehearse and when it comes time to film is when the talent to direct should manifest itself which is the same as coming up with creative answers when "sculpting" (as one takes out one statue of a stone, for example) and harmonize all the elements that you have in a scene and that were already planned ahead. That is where talent or intuition works, and that is not learned in a school or by watching a lot of cinema or by analyzing movies.

Mirna Santos, wife of Amín, played by Margaux Da Silva and Amín Abel Hasbún, played by Guillermo Lireano.  Photograph : Courtesy of Etzel Báez. 

Mirna Santos, wife of Amín, played by Margaux Da Silva and Amín Abel Hasbún, played by Guillermo Lireano. Photograph: Courtesy of Etzel Báez. 

What were some of the technical and conceptual problems that arose in the making of the film?

We had very few equipment and technicians and a single camera with a lousy tripod. The difference was in the competence and artistic mastery of the staff behind the camera and a good film direction. We filmed everything in nine days because we had to stick to a budget. In terms of the conceptual part, that was very easy because I have enough experience in stage work and I know very well what works or what doesn’t work to generate emotion.

We filmed everything in nine days.

What has been the reception of your film 339 Amín Abel Hasbún. Memory of a Crime in the Dominican Republic and abroad?

Those who oppose me see the film and change their minds with something like: "Ah, but Etzel knows what he is doing ... it's only talk..."

Then imagine the person who is not biased against me and sees the film. The common denominator is that it generates indignation and strong emotions.

Scene from 339 Amín Abel Hasbún. Memory of a Crime. Sargent Portes García, played by Mario Nuñez.  Photograph : Courtesy of Etzel Báez. 

Scene from 339 Amín Abel Hasbún. Memory of a Crime. Sargent Portes García, played by Mario Nuñez. Photograph: Courtesy of Etzel Báez. 

We would like to know which cinematic works you consider have influenced your artistic and social vision.

The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami made the film Shirin and Brazilian documentary filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho did Jogo de Cena, whoever sees those two films will find out why I convinced myself that I needed to structure the film the way it is made because by watching those two films I was not afraid to express that story in that way which is a gold mine for any filmmaker; it is not every day that one encounters a real police interrogation of murderers of a revolutionary who, on top of it, his killers murdered him in front of his pregnant wife and his young child. Each movie has its way to be made, that is, the story tells you how to do it, but you have to have the courage to do it. For my next film, el crimen de las Mirabal [The Crime of the Mirabals], I’ll make it very similar to Saul's Son, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, 2016.

What is the place of Dominican cinema or the cinematic practice that is taking place in this Caribbean nation in the Latin American region?

The DR is a country whose population is subject, and a prey to and ideologically conditioned to, consume the products of the ruling classes and governing classes and nothing else. There is also cultural illiteracy. Some elements of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Civilization of the Spectacle essay defines us well. 


339 Amín Abel Hasbún. Memory of a Crime has been screened at several universities in the United States. Its official release will be on January 2018.