Processing family memory is often as complicated as it is difficult. Dominican director Victoria Linares undertakes this process in her first feature film Lo que se hereda (family vice), about the near-erasure of his cousin Oscar Torres’ existence in their native Dominican Republic. As the film unfolds, Linares discovers how similar she is to Torres, despite the two being separated by an entire generation.
Lo que se hereda it hinges on Linares’ personal discovery of his cousin’s unproduced screenplays and film reviews he wrote in the 1950s during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. From 1930 until his assassination in 1961, the Trujillo regime carried out waves of ethnic cleansing, curtailed human rights and suppressed all political dissent in the Dominican Republic. This suppression led Torres to leave his home country to live out his days in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The director discovered the last remaining vestiges of her filmmaking activities and decided to use them in a film of her own.
In 2010, the Dominican Republic passed bill 108-10, which greatly increased investment in the film industry and has since spawned hundreds of films. Seeing Lo que se hereda at DOC NYC amid a wave of remarkable films coming out of the Dominican Republic (including the work of 25 New Faces alum Gabriela Ortega and Diana Peralta) draws anticipation for the future, but makes me wonder what other lost stories might be explored in the emerging Dominican documentary space.
Following the film’s debut in DOC NYC, Movie director spoke with Linares via email, discussing text messages tias, the existing research on Oscar Torres and the “fuzzy” memory of the director. Here you are que se hereda (Family vice) is being screened as part of DOC NYC’s virtual lineup through November 27.
Movie director: Memory is a major aspect of the film, especially how a family would keep those memories. There are differences between your mother’s and your father’s descriptions of whether you hypothetically die tomorrow, or how Oscar’s mother started burning her photo albums. Was that an idea you were pulling off with those sequences?
Linares: I am a person who has always been obsessed with memories and keeping souvenirs. I’ve always been a hoarder when it comes to this. My memory is quite fuzzy due to my acute anxiety so I always try to lean on objects, photographs, whatever I can get hold of that will somehow take me back to that place. I was also implying that no matter what you went through or experienced with that person, [that] it will never truly lead to a complete and detailed picture of who that person really was.
Movie director: The film is a dive into your family history and the wider history of Dominican cinema, including the reviews written by Oscars during the Trujillo dictatorship. Did you learn anything unique about cinematic habits during that time?
Linares: The mere practice of film criticism has been lost in the Dominican Republic. Reading his reviews is almost like having access to your own experiences inside a movie theater. They are so vivid and sharp and fun. Someone told me he would walk into a movie with a folded newspaper under his arm and a little black book. It reminds me of my best friend, who does exactly the same thing when we watch movies together. My friend is also a wonderful writer.
Movie director: Have you found archival materials on Oscar’s work in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the DR What was it like to find Oscar’s films and what is their conservation status?
Linares: We worked closely with the Puerto Rican [General] Archives office during my research. They provided us with a scanned copy of one of the Oscar films and its unproduced scripts. Thanks to the extensive and heroic research done by Luis Beiro, the author of the book [Oscar Torres: el cine con mirada universal], it was pretty quick to pinpoint the crucial things I needed for the film. The most precious object is the photo album that the family kept. I still have it with me. It’s pretty hard to let go of such a gem. The status of the films she made while living in Puerto Rico is in good shape. I don’t know the actual state of [Torres’s 1962 film] Realengo 18.
Movie director: I’m curious about the origins of when you knew this journey was going to become a whole movie. When your tia he sent you that first message about Oscar, did he imagine you would do this movie?
Linares: Not in a million years. I think it was something completely heaven sent, if that makes any sense. I don’t normally pay attention to what my aunts text me, but this one really caught my eye. I guess there was no going back.
Movie director: Could you describe the process of making a film like this in the Dominican Republic? Could a film like this have been made before the 2010 cinema bill?
Linares: The bill is somewhat difficult to explain, and I can’t necessarily describe it as the savior of Dominican cinema. It maintains a homogeneous production system that favors fiction films. I had to make this film in six weeks, three weeks of pre-production and three weeks of shooting, and then a full year of post-production.
Movie director: Through the three reenactments of the Oscar scripts, you seem to be mirroring each other in the most subtle way. For example, the silent sequence shot on 16mm film looks like Oscar did it himself. Do you think those traits and qualities can be passed down from generation to generation?
Linares: Initially, the film had a whole reincarnation sub-narrative, but then it became something else. His spirit was very much alive and with us throughout the entire process of making this film. His scripts were very technical, with movement and sound descriptions. I kept asking myself, “How would Oscar do this and that?”
Movie director: If you had to describe the documentary scene in DR in two words, what would you say?
Linares: A place where honesty and identity are truly explored. From my viewing experience, non-fiction is the most successfully explored genre in the Dominican Republic, from film essays to portraits to docu-fiction. We are a young art form, barely beginning to look within.
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