Miami Filmmakers Denied Entry to Miami Tourism-Sponsored Sundance Event UPDATED

Miami filmmakers are having a very good year. With movies screening at both Sundance and its indie counterpart, Slamdance, everyone seems to recognize that Miami has become a major hub for up-and-coming filmmakers. Everyone but the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, it seems.

Monday afternoon, Joey Daoud, coproducer of Papa Machete and co-creator of Dolphin Lover, shared a post on Facebook expressing his disappointment and disbelief that the Miami Lounge -- a space sponsored by the GMCVB -- wouldn't allow Miami filmmakers into the space. Daoud was accompanied by his cocreator of Dolphin Lover, Kareem Tabsch,Papa Machete co-executive producers and writers Jason Jeffers and Keisha Rae Witherspoon, and the film's director, Jon David Kane. Daoud's post went viral, and many local filmmakers commented on and tweeted the image, all expressing the same feeling: Miami doesn't care about locally made and produced films.

Rolando Aedo, GMCVB executive vice president/chief marketing officer, said there was no intention to offend anyone or do anything wrong. The organization, which has sponsored many local events for the industry, attended specifically on behalf of Miami filmmakers. "The whole purpose of our being there was to promote the film industry," Aedo says.

See also: City of Miami Breaks Ground on Film Studio

Daoud told New Times: "We were walking back from the [Slamdance] premiere of Dolphin Lover, walked by [the GMCVB lounge], and decided to check it out. The bouncer asked if we were on the list; we were not. I don't know of any Miami filmmaker who's ever been contacted by the GMCVB. We said we were Miami filmmakers with films here, but that didn't matter. I offered to show proof of residency. Nada. So no idea who or what that event was for, but it wasn't us."

The GMCVB is a public-private partnership between greater Miami's chamber of commerce and business owners. The goal of the organization is to promote tourism, according to their mission statement: "The GMCVB markets and promotes all segments of the community as a preferred destination." But, according to Miami filmmakers, "all segments" aren't exactly created equally.

For the past few years, the GMCVB has set up shop at the Sundance Film Festival hoping to attract moneyed tourists to Miami's shores. And though the organization's goal is to promote Miami, local filmmakers showing at Sundance have felt snubbed by the organization for years. "I didn't even try this year because they wouldn't let me in last year," Bernardo Britto told New Times. "It's simply unacceptable behavior." Last year Britto's film Yearbook won the Short Film Jury Award for animation.

The incident underscores the often-sizable gulf between the perceptions of "Miami" the chamber of commerce and city commissioners broadcast to the rest of world versus the "Miami" that creatives live and work in. "It's par for the course, really," Jeffers said in an email. "We weren't even surprised. Miami creatives have been consistently breaking through to... national and even international acclaim in recent years, but they don't even register on the radar of those promoting 'Miami' to the world. That's a shame, because what they're pushing reeks of outdated opulence, a wet dream for would-be jetsetters."

Jeffers' feeling that there are two dueling visions of the city, often diametrically opposed, was echoed by fellow Borscht filmmaker Lucas Levya. "It's sort of complicated," Levya said. "The GMCVB is doing their job by marketing Miami as a travel destination to the affluent demographic at Sundance by renting out a very expensive space on Main Street and giving away souvenirs and drinks and throwing parties. The irony is that across the street at the actual film festival, Miami filmmakers are screening movies that were made specifically to counteract the image of the city that the GMCVB is perpetuating. I almost think it's more appropriate that they aren't letting local filmmakers in. Why would they? They aren't here to support local artists; they are here to get people to take vacations to Miami... There's enough room for more than one image of the city -- and having the Borscht vision of Miami literally across the street from this one fits the shallow party/serious filmmaking duality of Sundance as well."

Asked whether he thought Miami supported local filmmakers, Daoud responded, "There [are] some very supportive organizations for Miami filmmakers -- especially the Knight Foundation. But it seems Miami is more interested in big-budget L.A. productions versus homegrown local talent with smaller projects." It was a sentiment repeated by many of his colleagues.

Ultimately, Miami's film community is repeating a complaint that nearly every creative in the city has uttered at some point: The city's presentation of itself seems to exclude the hard work of the region's artists. "The best way to promote filmmaking in Florida," Jonathan David Kane wrote, "is to promote the stories and storytellers from the region." Why the GMCVB continues to exclude local filmmakers while promoting the city as an ideal place for big-budget films remains unclear.

Responds Aedo: "Ultimately somebody's name wasn't on a list. We want to celebrate the local film industry. The fact is that we go film festivals around the country, and our core message is, 'We have a great film festivals and film scene in Miami."

The group isn't letting the snub get them down. Keisha Rae Witherspoon used the extra time to "purchase some fierce socks at a shop nearby."

"Ultimately, this is a testament to how much catching up certain pockets of the Miami infrastructure have to do regarding the film scene," Witherspoon said. "We're here, so they can either figure themselves out or get left behind. In the meantime, I leave this with a Sundance laurel, my parents' approval, and some damned nifty socks."

"I'm not personally offended by being left out of the lounge and anything that might be happening there." Jeffers added. "The future of Miami is not on the other side of that velvet rope."

Says Aedo: "We have made commitments in the past and will make more. We rely on our film office partners, but we welcome additional input from filmmakers and film festivals to expand our efforts."

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Stassa Edwards
Contact: Stassa Edwards