Film is probably one of the least cultivated arts in Miami. Locals who want to become filmmakers move to NYC or LA to seek their fortune and fame. Fortunately, homegrown talent Alexandra Codina decided to come back.
After years of freelancing in New York, Codina returned home to work with the Miami International Film Festival and decided to shoot a documentary about the wedding between her cousin Monica and a young man named David, two people with intellectual disabilities. The film Monica & David won Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and it will soon air on HBO. Check out the jump for a Q&A with Codina, who The Independent called one of 10 filmmakers to watch in 2009.
New Times: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and life in Miami?
Alexandra Codina: Growing up I loved watching classic and foreign films, but didn't have much access to documentaries or independently made work. In college there was a local cinema house where I finally began to see different types of films and was mesmerized. That's when I first realized that film combined my passions--art, languages, social change and understanding worlds outside of my own. I never went to film school, but spent two years doing freelance work in New York, including: production assistant, driving a limo, (and)anything to get on a set and learn.
Probably the most interesting turn was heading back home to work with Nicole Guillemet at the Miami International Film Festival in 2003. She had an amazing vision of what a film festival should be and how to support filmmakers, while reaching out to the local community. Understanding the business side has been just as important as the many films I watched as a programmer. But directing my first film has been a huge learning experience, made possible through the support of many wonderful people...and there is still much to be learned.
How did you get the idea for Monica & David?
Several weeks before my cousin Monica's wedding, I realized that while everyone was very happy for her and David, there seemed to be an unspoken feeling that this was a cute gesture between two kids, rather than a serious adult commitment. My initial motivation was my love and admiration for Monica and David, and frustration with people's lack of understanding. But I've also always wanted to get beyond their seemingly happy exterior and understand what Monica and David really think and feel.
Was this an emotional project for you?
Shooting family is also very difficult, especially when you are close to them. We shot the majority of the film during a time of chaos and transition, when they moved from their home of many years, into a smaller apartment almost an hour away. I dreaded having to call my aunt to ask for shoot days, and although she was very open in front of the camera, she hates having her photo taken. It was a huge relief when my family saw the film and loved it, especially Monica and David who are natural born stars. But the making of the film was definitely emotional, and I felt a huge responsibility to make the film a success and put out a story which would help and not harm the disability movement.
How did you feel about about being named one of The Independent's "10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2009" and your win at Tribeca?
>Tribeca was an enormous surprise and something which continues to feel surreal and incredibly exciting. Particularly in making such a personal film, it was so good to know that other people cared about the story; and it felt like an immediate affirmation that something significant was going to come of all of this. Getting the call from HBO that they would be picking up the project was a whole other level of wow
What's your opinion of Miami's cultural scene, specifically in regards to indie filmmakers?
Being based in Miami is definitely a challenge for a filmmaker because there is such little support and no leadership. But you have so many untold stories here and Miami is home, so I'm figuring out the best way to continue producing films locally. There are a few other filmmakers down here, and a few of us have been getting together trying to make sense of how to find support for our work, and not have to leave for New York or LA to get funding and find collaborators. I'm hoping to get a small film coop started here, starting with an intimate group of trusted filmmakers, and am looking for support for that. So there's hope, but it's definitely going to take some work.
Do you plan on shooting non-documentary features in the future? If so, do you see Miami being used as a setting?
No plans for now in terms of producing or directing fiction, but I'm definitely open for some point in the future. That would definitely be a step for me, going from a tiny two person crew to a managing a much larger group of people. If I were to do fiction, I would definitely consider Miami as a setting, but for the same reasons that I want to continue producing documentaries down here. I hate that Miami is only used as a backdrop for crime, sex and the party scene. I feel that this city is so much more than that, with such rich cultural pockets within the community and beautiful settings...along with some tough realities which need addressing.
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Monica & David premieres on HBO 1 and HBO Latino this Thursday, October 14, at 8:00 p.m.
Here is a trailer of the film: