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How Not to Make a Movie About Wynwood

How Not to Make a Movie About Wynwood
Photo by Travis Cohen

How did Wynwood become Wynwood? The former warehouse district has become a favorite cultural crucible of our city, a focal point of Miami that rivals or perhaps even supersedes South Beach in the minds of much of the country.

But when did all of this start adding up to Wynwood being the star of a score of silly ass movies and documentary shorts trying to show what Miami "really" is?

A rash of very seriously produced videos have been popping up around the web recently, all with the apparent goal of telling the story of Wynwood. But while most of these videos seem to be made with a complete sense of certainty as to what Wynwood is, it's apparent that in many ways they are utterly clueless about the personality of Miami's favorite Arts District.

Wynwood is full of artists. It is also full of assholes. Wynwood is full of free spirits. It is also full of trend-obsessed followers. Wynwood is full of people who love the community. It is also full of people who don't give a shit about you or anybody else and who just want to get theirs.

The place is rife with contradictions, and in many ways that's what makes it so interesting. Unfortunately, these short documentaries don't seem especially interested in that multifaceted aspect of Wynwood. They tend to opt for a more streamlined image of a town that's breaking the mold every day and is wholly engulfed in the momentum of the artistry around the district.

In these films, Wynwood isn't a real place at all -- it's just a fantasy projected onto the neighborhood.

Take for instance, the recent New York Times video segment on Wynwood, entitled "Intersection: Style is Art In Miami." This is probably the best bit of Wynwood tape that been popularly circulating at the moment (no huge surprise, given that there's a reason the New York Times is The New York Times), and by that I mean it's the least unreal. It's a well-produced video interviewing a range of people who discuss how they express themselves through the way they dress. And while one of the people interviewed does start to get into the nature of the Wynwood art scene, the video is almost exclusively focused on the way people like to dress, with the murals and mirth of Wynwood simply serving as the backdrop.

But here's the thing: Who gives a fuck how you dress?

There is no reason a 3-minute segment about Miami should be about how people like to put their "costumes" together so that they can "blend in with the art and maybe jump out sometimes." If this segment had been titled Style is Art In Wynwood, it still would have been bullshit because A) there's a lot more than 3 minutes worth of fashion wandering around Wynwood on any given day or night, and B) ultimately, the clip says very little about Wynwood itself. The way people dress has approximately fuck-all to do with what Wynwood represents as Miami's booming Arts District. It's not important. Watching this video is on the same level as riding the tour buses that took shocked Middle Americans visiting San Francisco through Haight-Ashbury so they could see what all the freaks and hippies and weirdos they'd heard about really looked like, without giving the first shit about what was going on there in that moment in time.

(The comparison in that last line was not meant to imply that something is or has been happening in Wynwood that's on par with what was happening in Haight-Ashbury in the '60s, just that the disconnect between the questions of substance and questions of appearance are notably similar.)

And while there certainly are more than a few interesting looking individuals wandering the streets from 29th to 21st streets, if you're going to make a video that extolls the virtues of how fascinating a place Wynwood is, you'd better have a lot more to go on than what the wanderers are wearing.

Reel Miami takes a stab at its own Wynwood movie with the far less subtle approach of making a 19-minute short film, "WYNWOOD". And while the New York Times at the very least made a semi-laudable effort, this short film looks laughable. In it, we have a couple who visit Miami and have what appear to be the same old cliched relationship problems. There are shots of the female lead crying inside the hotel room, shots of the male lead crying as he slides onto the hallway floor of their hotel with his back against the door, shots of a flirtatious brunette, shots of a picnic, and so on, and so on.

If you have functioning brain cells, watch this trailer, and see the title come up at the end, your immediate reaction is probably something like, "wait...what? Wynwood?" Much like the NYT piece, Reel Miami has used Wynwood as a colorful backdrop -- and that's about it. According to the synopsis on the site, "As they wait for further news, [the characters] decide to explore Wynwood. We soon realize that they are at a crossroad in their relationship and must make a decision on whether to stay together or move on with their lives."

Unless one of the characters is kidnapped and indoctrinated into some ultra Wynwood-centric art cult and tries to cut the other person in the relationship to pieces and use them and their precious bodily fluids for a new mural before they decide whether or not to stay together or move on with their lives (which seems rather unlikely based on the trailer, but who knows), then there is no sensible reason why this should be titled Wynwood. It's akin to making a movie about a guy who marries a Cuban girl and then doesn't get along with her father and titling that "HIALEAH". Actually, that movie would probably make more sense and be significantly more interesting.

And then you have the Art Basel videos. Take, for example, the 4-minute short titled "Wynwood Miami", shot for Bread and Butter Magazine during Art Basel. This is an interesting example, because if you were to simply cut the voiceover and synch the right piece of music to the video, everything would be groovy. It's very nicely filmed, well edited, and it has some cool Wynwood moments that they captured. But once they dropped in the narration, everything went straight to hell.

Videos like these -- just one of many clips that pop up after Art Basel each year -- are created by filmmakers who take the place too seriously. They wind up heaping a steaming pile of reverence on top of a quality video of an area that neither deserves nor needs such reverence. "But away from the pomp and guest lists, [our videographers] found a place that is free for all," says the suavely accented narrator. Free for all? Tell that to the businesses getting priced out of the neighborhood.

Honestly, try watching this video once with the sound on, then mute it and watch it again with whatever song you please playing instead - "Step" by Vampire Weekend works pretty well, but whatever floats your boat - and you will find the latter far more tasteful and far less ridiculous.

Every day, more movies are made about Wynwood, the ultra-stylish haven of the über-hip; Wynwood, the up-and-coming backdrop neighborhood; Wynwood, the romanticized bohemian paradise where the children of the spirit run wild and free. Detractors watch these films and roll their eyes, complaining that the neighborhood is "over" now that we have an arts district covered in commissioned murals and cops who kick artists off the street if they don't have the right permits. The reality, perhaps, is somewhere in the middle of all those contradictions.

Maybe someone should make a video about that.

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