David Beriáin, Spanish Doc Director-Producer, Killed in Burkina Faso Attack

John Hopewell
·3-min read

Director-producer David Beriáin, one of the key figures on Spain’s new documentary scene, was killed on Monday while making an anti-poaching documentary in Burkina Faso.

Beriáin, accompanied by cameraman Roberto Fraile, was traveling in a convoy near the Arli National Park when it was attacked by armed men who arrived in two trucks and a dozen motorbikes, according to El País.

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The Spanish newspaper added that Beriáin and Fraile had got out of one of the convoy’s trucks to launch a drone in order to take aerial photos when the attack began. Both lost their lives, as did Ireland’s Rory Young, director of the Fundación Chungeta Wildlife, an NGO.

Beriáin and Fraile had both been working on a documentary about the Burkina Faso government’s attempt to crack down on poaching in its national parks.

The murder is attributed, however, to jihadists by The Guardian, which points out that insurgents linked to the Islamic State terror group and al-Qaida have led a campaign of violence across West Africa’s Sahel region, causing a million people to be displaced.

Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, reported Tuesday that no group had yet claimed responsibility for the attack. “This is a dangerous area because terrorists, poachers, robbers and jihadist groups habitually operate there,” she said.

Born in Navarre, Spain, Beriáin died doing what he had loved, reporting from major conflict and crime zones around the world, as in an early documentary, 2015’s “Clandestine Amazon,” made for Discovery Channel, which portrayed the world of narcos, slaves, guerrillas, gold seekers, illegal wood cutters and smugglers populating the jungle.

He broke through to fame directing over 2015-19 the 15-part “Clandestine” for Discovery Channel, whose episodes, based on ground research, portrayed the Mediterranean mobsters running migration as a business, Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, El Salvador’s Maras gangs, and the Camorra.

“David was a noble and stubborn man from Navarre who achieved incredible things, such as interviewing members of FARC, Talibans and the Sinaloa Cartel,” said Hernán Zin, who featured Beriáin in his award-winning documentary, “Morir para contar” (“Dying to Tell”), now on Netflix. “In another country, he’d have half a dozen Pulitzer prizes, but here in Spain, it costs us a lot to recognize talent. In this case, talent accompanied by courage and an ethical commitment to stories,” Zin added.

In “Dying to Tell,” Beriáin talks about the consequence of his possible death. By the time of his murder, however, he had begun to redirect his large energies and sense of a story to becoming a producer working out of his own label, 93 Meters. “The most tragic thing about his death is that David had said that this was his final on-the-ground research trip,” said Zin.

Madrid-based, 93 Meters has emerged in a very short period of time as one of the leading independent production houses on a new Spanish documentary scene driven ever more by Spain’s pay TV and SVOD platforms. 93 Meters’ recent credits take in a trio of emblematic doc series titles at Movistar Plus as it drives ever more into non-fiction.

These range from last year’s “El Palmar de Troya,” about Seville’s zany Palmarian Church, which canonized Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, to the just-released “Palomares,” revealing the truth about an air accident in 1966, which saw four nuclear bombs fall on Spain.

When he died, Beriáin has been working as a director on “Espías,” which promised to tell the real story of international espionage behind the novels of John Le Carré and Frederick Forsyth.

Jamie Lang contributed to this article.

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