fb-pixel Skip to main content
DOC TALK

Doc Talk: The plight of Haitian-Dominicans; millions of moths; cat videos galore

Rosa Iris campaigning, in "Stateless."
Rosa Iris campaigning, in "Stateless.""POV," PBS

National borders these days are not known for their kindness to strangers, but the one dividing Haiti from the Dominican Republic presents an especially insidious example of human rights abuse. As seen in Michèle Stephenson’s documentary “Stateless,” a 2013 ruling from the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court stripped citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent. Citizens of neither nation, over 200,000 Haitian-Dominicans have become refugees in their own country, trapped in a catch-22 situation where they must track down elusive or nonexistent documents to appeal their status.

This state of affairs has a long and bloody history. It goes back to 1937, when Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo had tens of thousands of Haitians murdered in a campaign to eliminate black people and “whiten” the population. Now the country has been swept up in the worldwide trend toward toxic, exclusionary nationalism. Gladys, a wealthy woman, is an activist in that cause. She claims she’s not racist but says she’s heard stories of Haitians who are thugs, rapists, thieves, and murderers. The border must be sealed and all non-Dominicans deported. “The government must build a wall,” she says.

Advertisement



Luckily for some of the Dominicans of Haitian descent, they have the help of Rosa Iris, a young lawyer who has specialized in pleading the cases of those tossed into this legal limbo. One of her clients, Juan Teofilo, has been separated from his children because of the new rules. In a suspenseful sequence, he and Iris drive through checkpoints en route to the government office where he can renew his identity card. As with most of Iris’s cases, his is frustrated by red tape and barely concealed contempt and racism.

Like the Kenyan activist in last year’s documentary “Softie,” Iris decides she will have to run for public office to achieve any change. As happens in that other film, she contends with mounting obstacles. She lacks funds for organizing and campaigning. She encounters apathy and despair among those she wants to represent — some of whom are willing to sell their votes for the 100 pesos offered by the opposition. And she is getting death threats — not just against her but her young son as well. Her anxiety grows when staff members of a radio station where she has given interviews are murdered.

Advertisement



Intercut through Iris’s story is a dreamlike enactment of a legend about a Haitian girl who back in the days when Trujillo was dictator was chased down by border guards. Her spirit now lives in the aptly named Massacre River, and she protects children while they sleep, singing them lullabies until dawn.

“Stateless” can be streamed until Aug. 18 at pov.org and at www.pbs.org/video/stateless-ldyxcy until Oct. 18.

Lou and Sam, the two young women in "Moth/Pyrale."
Lou and Sam, the two young women in "Moth/Pyrale."True Story

Infestation

Luckily the cicada invasion spared Greater Boston, but the inhabitants of Drôme Provençale, in southern France, faced something much worse in the summer of 2016.

Individually, the boxwood moth is almost beautiful, its delicate white wings like engraved crystal. Swarming in the millions, they are a terrifying sight. Their larvae are even worse. They devour the leaves of boxwood trees, leaving acres of blight that are kindling for wildfires.

“It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Moths’!” says one of the two teenage girls who are the subjects of Roxanne Gaucherand’s boldly experimental hybrid documentary, “Moth/Pyrale” (2020). Best friends since childhood, the two regard the plague with curiosity and wonder; and it seems to parallel the growing attraction between them.

Advertisement



Gaucherand combines an observational style in reporting the moth infestation with a diaristic format for recording the pair’s metamorphosing relationship. The result is a provocative pairing of disaster movie with coming-of-age story.

Go to www.truestory.film.

Three of the stars of "CatFestVideo 2021."
Three of the stars of "CatFestVideo 2021."Oscilloscope Laboratories

Paws that refresh

The “CatVideoFest 2021” is a compilation reel of cat videos that Will Braden has picked out and put together from the 10,000 he claims to have watched. That’s from the 2 million feline flickers put on YouTube every year and seen by 26 billion viewers. But there can never be enough cat videos, and these are the quintessence of the genre. Plus, the show raises money for cats in need, through partnerships with local cat charities and animal welfare organizations.

Every permutation of the form fills the fest’s 70 minutes. Cats prowl across keyboards — both piano and computer. Cats interact with video games, other animals (a parrot and a bobcat!), infants, Q-Tips (very funny), other cats, long-suffering dogs, countless cat toys, tall shelving with fragile objects, Christmas tree ornaments, Zoom calls, and themselves seen in reflective surfaces. There are dressed-to-the-nines cats strutting on a catwalk and a feral kitten finding a forever home with a girl in a wheelchair.

The funniest of these clips employ suspense — no matter how many times you see a bag or a box and a cat jump out of it, it’s a surprise (for me anyway)! The less successful episodes are those that are clearly staged, in which the cats are manipulated, ending with the notice “No cats were injured in making this video but a couple of owners were scratched.” Serves them right.

Advertisement



A sad note: Braden makes an on-screen appearance toward the end to announce that his tuxedo cat Henry, best known on social media as Henri, the weary existentialist “Le Chat Noir” who has bemoaned the futility of life and the stupidity of the human race in numerous videos, has moved on to kitty heaven. There he will no doubt be performing in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.”

Au revoir, Henri! “L’enfer, c’est les autres!”

“CatVideoFest 2021” will screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre July 25 at 2 p.m. Go to coolidge.org/events/catvideofest-2021.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.