Movie Mojo

$224 Million in Tax Credits Approved  to Attract Filmmakers to Miami

On Saturday night, at the Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood, a gathering of Miami’s more cinematic-minded souls will meet. The occasion? A movie called Historias de la Urbe (Urban Stories). And while the flick isn’t entirely finished yet (the producers are looking at fall), the cast and the crew will be on hand to hype the project, as will Omar Roque, who will be performing excerpts from the film’s soundtrack.

Directed by Carla and Vincente Forte, two transplanted Venezuelan siblings who’ve found something stirring in Miami, Historias de la Urbe is the first full scale feature completely backed by an outfit called Miami World Cinema Center (MWCC). And if the words of MWCC Director of Creative and Business Development Jose Luis Martinez are any indication, it’s just the kinda outfit Miami movie-makers need.

“There never really has been an organization like this in South Florida;” Martinez told SunPost Weekly, “a non-profit arts organization that caters specifically to filmmakers in Miami.”

According to Martinez, MWCC got involved with the Fortes after a pitch meeting. The organization dug the filmmakers’ idea to of “shooting a series of intertwining stories of Spanish-speaking immigrants” and immediately gave them the green light. That was in March; by May they’d completed production, which is a rapid-fire filmmaking in any language.

“Their script was pretty much in a place where we could go straight to development,” said Martinez. “So first we gave them production offices and took periodic meetings; then we helped them find the cast – we contacted local talent agencies and held casting calls right in the office. We helped them negotiate with different vendors (camera equipment, rentals), finding local crew… pretty much helped them every way we could.”

The Fortes insist their film “could not” have been made without MWCC’s assistance. “They helped out with equipment, space, contacts, everything,” said Carla Forte, “and they’ve become like family to us.”

And the Fortes aren’t the only cinematically-inclined Miamians due to benefit from MWCC’s expertise either.

“We are in the development process of a few projects right now,” adds Martinez, “including a horror script from two Miami filmmakers now based in Puerto Rico that we’re slated to put into production in either late fall 2010 or early 2011. The film is called Bloodline, and the directors are Ibanez and Diego Meza. This will be their first feature as well.”

MWCC was founded back in 2008 by Patrick de Bokay. De Bokay, who once helmed the Miami International Film Festival, is a member of the Florida Film Production Coalition, the group which spearheaded a campaign to get tax breaks for folks looking to shoot in Florida. And last week the Governor’s Office of Film and Entertainment announced they’d be issuing $242 million of just that over the next five years.

According to the Film in Florida website “[o]f the 90 qualified projects, 52 projects have been certified,” and as of July 1, the “$53.5 million FY2010-2011 tax credit allocation” has been fulfilled. And while there’s still no word on just which films will be benefitting from the Office’s largess, it’s hopeful there’ll be action enough to spur Florida’s increasingly dormant film industry.

And if you ask Alfred Spellman, it’s an industry that surely is in need of some relief.

“The 90s indie film heyday is long over,” said Spellman , “there is absolutely zero chance of an independently produced dramatic feature receiving any sort of meaningful distribution and anyone who thinks differently is kidding themselves.”

Spellman, who with Billy Corben runs Rakontur, would definitely know the sad state of indie film. But as bad as it may be, that hasn’t stopped Rakontur from making some very radical and accomplished Miami movies, among them makers of Cocaine Cowboys, as well as the forthcoming Square Grouper.

Nor has it stopped the folks behind Borscht, which began as a kinda alternative film festival and has now become somewhat of a movement in Miami movie-making.

Says Minister of the Interior Lucas Leyva, Borscht is “now in the process of taking submissions for next year’s festival,” and they’ve added “a new program called Borscht’s Auris (pronounced Borschtasaurus) that incorporates the local music scene as well.”

“In this program,” explains Leyva, “up to six local musicians will be partnered with up to six nationally-recognized independent filmmakers to create a short film in Miami.”

“As an exclusive to you,” he adds, “I would like to reveal that one of the filmmakers we have secured is Barry Jenkins – one of Liberty City’s native sons. Barry has received much acclaim for his first full-length feature Medicine for Melancholy, which was nominated for several Independent Spirit Awards (I believe he was up against people like Sean Penn and Charlie Kaufman).”

Leyva though is not simply some kinda administrator; no, he gets out and gets his hands dirty too – or in the case of what he did recently to a Ford Fiesta, bloody.

Ford commissioned Leyva to create a film around their Fiesta, so he “created Lombries, about a Cuban-American grandfather and his grandson trying to escape post-apocalyptic Miami alive and uninfected by a mind-controlling parasite.”

In other words, it was a bloodfest, and probably not exactly what Ford had in mind.

“Giving a brand-new car prototype to a group of young twenty-somethings is probably not the best idea,” cracked Leyva, “during the shoot the car was almost blown up, flipped over, sunk into Biscayne Bay, covered in blood, filled with insects and generally abused.”

“For several days after the shoot,” he adds, “I was driving around the city with the car covered in blood and out of state tags, and not one cop stopped me. If I ever murder anyone I will make sure to be blatant about it.”

Another blood-loving Miamian who won’t be stopped by cops or anyone else is Aiden Dillard, whose swamp-set Hell Glades is slated to screen this fall.

Produced, written, directed, and edited by Dillard, executive produced by Accord Productions and Ted Vernon, and starring Ted and Robin Vernon, Katie Rotolo, Nicole Soden, Chelsea Harshman, Jenny Scordamaglia, Belkys Galvez, and Aban Sonia, Hell Glades promises to do to horror what alligators have done for the Everglades ever since we were primordial – and that’s put some teeth in the genre.

Of course the film will also possess Dillard’s trademark smirk, just as it will contain all of his inherent optimism.

“I feel that there are golden opportunities for independent filmmakers here in Miami,” says Dillard, “it just takes some digging in the sand to find them. I relocated to this city from New York three years ago because I was attracted to the rich cultural diversity, stunning natural beauty, wonderful climate, and I have never looked back.”

Will the Governor’s $242 million in tax breaks save our city’s film industry? Probably not. But it’s a shot in the right direction. Add talents like Rakontur, Leyva, Dillard and the Fortes, and there’s bound to be even more shots to come.

Are you ready for your close-up?

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