Filmmakers We Dont Get No Respect
By Catherine Lackner
Miami’s cinematic identity is evolving, but it will not be complete until we stop wondering "what Los Angeles thinks of us," said some participants in a workshop at CAMACOL’s Miami Media and Film Market last week. They observed that a Miami native is only considered a success when that success occurs elsewhere.
"Miami doesn’t legitimize things until they’re big somewhere else," said Andrew Hevia, producer of "When We Lived in Miami," and associate producer of "Sun Don’t Shine." (The films were both directed by Amy Seimetz, also a Florida native). "Success is success when it’s outside of Miami," he added. Mr. Hevia is a founding member of the Borscht Film Festival, which has as its mission is "to commission and showcase films by emerging artists that tell Miami stories going beyond the typical portrayal of a beautiful but vapid party town."
Perceptions of home-grown success might change as more made-in-Miami films are shown to Miami audiences, said Jaie Laplante, workshop participant and executive director of the Miami International Film Festival.
"When I came on board, there was a perception that the festival wasn’t so friendly to local films. I wanted to turn that around, so we looked for projects that were made here."
When "Magic City Memoirs" – about the exploits of three high-school friends facing graduation day – premiered at the 2011 festival, it sold out quickly. "And that opened the floodgates," Mr. Laplante said. "Who wouldn’t want their film put on screen at the Gusman, or at Regal Cinemas?"
It also helps that there are now more venues for independent films, participants said.
"We hated that, to see an independent film, we often had to go to another city, because that film was not going to come to Miami," said Kareem Tabsch, workshop participant and founder of O Cinema. "It’s an exciting moment to be a filmmaker here. Yes, there’s a lot of garbage – like ‘Rock of Ages’ – but it’s still exciting. It’s starting to really bubble up."
"Miami works because it’s a creative frontier," Mr. Hevia said. "There’s no general store, and there’s a belief that if we want it, we’ve got to build it. So we build it."
That pioneering attitude has spelled success for Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, principals of rakontur, a Miami documentary filmmaker, said Graham Winick, film and event production manager for the City of Miami Beach and workshop moderator. Rakontur’s films include "Cocaine Cowboys," "The U" and "Square Grouper."
"They were one of the first in Miami to say ‘our truth makes a better story than any fiction,’" Mr. Winick said.
"They get flak for it," Mr. Tabsch said, "but what they do is unvarnished. It celebrates the city’s underbelly, not the $14 drink on South Beach. Some people hate on this city like it’s a full-time job, but others want to celebrate it."
Mr. Corben and Mr. Spellman are unusual in that both are natives, both attended the University of Miami, and they remained here to launch their careers.
"As a city, not enough is done to encourage filmmakers to stay," Mr. Tabsch said. "The University of Miami’s film school gets you ready to move to Los Angeles. We don’t have a really good master of fine arts program. There’s an attitude that you learn what you can here and take it somewhere else. We have to make the ground more fertile here."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.