Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘Massacre River.’

Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘Massacre River.’

Anyone who has taken a high school history class at some point has heard the phrase: “those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it.” It is a cliché that, more routinely than not, draws a fair number of eye-rolls, smirks, and snickers. It is a cliché that is, until faced with very real examples of moments where awful history seems to be repeating itself.

Suzan Beraza’s Massacre River looks at the Dominican Republic some eighty-years after Rafael Trujilo’s infamous paisley massacre, where similar anti-Haitian nationalist sentiments have again reached a boiling point. Following a 2013 constitutional ruling that rescinded the citizenship of over 200,000 Dominican-born residents of Haitian descent, the Dominican government opens up a regularization process for these citizens. Beraza emphasizes one particular story as a sort of case-study; twenty-three-year-old Pikilina finds herself racing the clock to complete her paperwork for both herself, and her two children. In doing so, Beraza provides us with a human face that arguably elevates her film above simple political strife, and allows the audience to make a necessary emotional connection.

Ultimately, this is not a documentary for the faint of heart. There are a couple of pointedly disturbing scenes, and the film’s tone is considerably heavy. Yet, Massacre River also feels very much of this time, where we seem to need constant reminders of the ever-growing presence of nationalist sentiment across the world. Beraza’s film is a fine addition into the (unfortunately) ever-growing canon of films about the targets of oppression, and the perpetually mutating face of global nationalism.  You will be aware of this film’s importance, and just how much you wish it need not be made.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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