Each year, MFA, BFA, One-Year and Two-Year photography students, as well as MFA and One-Year documentary students are invited on a one-week exotic trip. This year the New York Film Academy Los Angeles headed on an exotic excursion to the Dominican Republic. The team was led by Documentary Chair Barbara Multer-Wellin, Production Sound Instructor James Coburn IV, and Photography Instructor David Blumenkrantz. Joining their instructors were documentary students Guangli Zhu, Carolina Sosa and Yuan Li, as well as photography students Brenda Cantu and Ziomara Ramirez.
Along the trip, Ms. Multer-Wellin kept a log of this incredible journey that captured the exotic landscape and culture of the Dominican Republic.
September 16, 2016
We left Los Angeles at 11:00 PM, switched planes in New York and arrived in Santo Domingo the next afternoon. We spent the rest of the day getting acclimated and renting some lighting and grip equipment from a local rental house. Afterwards, we had dinner at an oceanside restaurant, as a huge orange Harvest Moon rose in the sky.
After a quick stop at a local cambio to change dollars into Dominican pesos, the NYFA team started filming the streets of Santo Domingo. The team began at the ruins of the Monastery of San Francisco, built in 1503. Walking through the local streets we filmed street vendors, performers, painters, young couples, an evangelist, domino players, and a trio of musicians playing Merengue Tipico — the traditional form of the Dominican national dance and music.
Since we’re here to make a documentary about Merengue, this was a great stroke of luck. Dinner was at a restaurant in Santo Domingo’s China Town. Our two Chinese team members, Guangli and Yuan, were able to speak with the owners in Chinese, although their dialects were not the same. Somehow, in a mixture of Spanish, Chinese and English, we managed to order a real feast.
Today was all about challenges and overcoming them. Our NYFA crew was scheduled to interview the noted Dominican percussionist and folklorist Edis Sanchez at his new apartment. But we soon discovered that Mr. Sanchez had yet to move in, so the apartment was empty (luckily he brought his drums and some chairs). We were able to film a great interview with available light and a single bounce board.
That evening we filmed an outdoor Merengue concert and dance party with the band Grupo Bonyé at the ruins of the San Francisco Monastery, first built in 1503. We hope to interview the band’s leader, Señor Nestor Sanchez, later this week, a great addition to our documentary about the importance of Merengue in the Dominican Republic and just maybe our reward for hanging in there.
By our third full day we had adjusted to the realities of filming here in Santo Domingo. Traffic on weekdays rivals Los Angeles — it just takes more time than you think to get anywhere, even with the expertise of our driver/new friend Victor. We spent the morning filming more establishing shots for the opening sequence of our documentary, including the first cemetery built in Santo Domingo; a haunting and eerily beautiful place full of crosses, angels and a few stray dogs. Next were a flower/flea market, the Presidential Palace and an upscale residential area. This is a city of stark differences between the way the rich and poor live, like most cities. We spent the afternoon at the Palace of Fine Arts where we were fortunate to be able to film the fantastic dancers from the Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominco as they rehearsed three Merengue pieces. One couple demonstrated the basic steps of Merengue for our cameras. Tomorrow, an interview with Elizabeth Crooke Morel, Director of Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominco, and Nestor Sanchez, from the great band that played at the concert at the ruins of the San Francisco Monastery.
The New York Film Academy LA documentary crew began the day back at the Palace of Fine Arts in Santo Domingo to interview the Director of the Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominco, Elizabeth Crooke Morel who told us more about the elements of the dance Merengue. After a quick stop to film more establishing shots in a shopping area in the city, we all piled back into the van. Soon we arrived at the home of musician Nestor Sanchez. Señor Sanchez spoke movingly about the history of Merengue and the profound meaning it holds for the Dominican people.