Pepe 2024

Directed by Nelson Carlos de Los Santos Arias Visions

One of Pablo Escobar’s “cocaine hippos” ponders the meaning of existence from beyond the grave in this gleefully unclassifiable film that playfully weaves fact, fiction and form into a truly unique cinematic experience.

Aug 10

Hollywood Avondale

122 minutes DCP/Colour and B&W
Offensive language, drug use & flashing images that may cause seizures

Director, Screenplay, Editor, Music


Pablo Lozano, Tanya Valette, Nelson Carlos de los Santos Arias


Camilo Soratti, Roman Lechapelier, Nelson Carlos de los Santos Arias

Production Designers

Daniel Rincón, Melania Freires

Costume Designer

Laura Guerrero, Erik Paredes


Erwin Jiménez, Manuel Barenboim


Jhon Narváez, Sor Maria Rios, Fareed Matjila, Harmony Ahalwa, Jorge Puntillon Garcia, Shifafure Faustinus


Berlin, Sydney 2024


Best Director, Berlin International Film Festival 2024


Pepe was the first hippopotamus shot down in the Americas. He was freely roaming the waters of Rio Magdalena, Colombia, leaving fishermen in awe and terror. Pepe was a “cocaine hippo”, part of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s personal menagerie. “Imported” from Namibia, Escobar’s hippos thrived in their new American habitat after his demise. But Pepe was an unwanted guest.  

Dominican director Nelson de los Santos Arias summons the spirit of that legendary hippo in Pepe, giving him voice and turning him into a polyglottal narrator in what is possibly the most unclassifiable cinematic oddity of 2024. Guided by an adamant post-colonial stand and influenced by the tropical cinema of Brazilian master Glauber Rocha, de los Santos Arias cleverly experiments with narration and formats, deliberately blurring fiction and documentary, factual narration and magic realism, and adopting a structure that favors digressions and diversions rather than linearity.  

Bridging Africa and Latin America, the amazing mosaic of Pepe provides an alternative, politically charged retelling of the colonial connection between the two shores of the Atlantic. Ironic and stylistically enthralling, Pepe won de los Santos Arias a deserved Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2024 Berlinale. Hailed as the Apichatpong Weerasethakul of Latin America, he is a talent that New Zealand audiences should discover too. — Paolo Bertolin 

“De los Santos Arias is refreshingly promiscuous when it comes to the look of the film, switching allegiance between widescreen and academy ratio, black and white and lush, verdant colour. Ultimately, it’s a film that refuses to be pinned down and which consistently defies expectations. Pepe is crammed, perhaps even overstuffed, with ideas, but which, like the huge beasts at the heart of the story, is deceptively agile and light on its feet.” — Wendy Ide, Screen Daily