This was a regular scene on the First Street Pier of yesteryear. And a new documentary directed by Miami native Robert Requejo Ramos, Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club, explores the exploits of the man who lived to fish and became a legend in his own time, as well as the legacy he left behind. It also offers a rarified look at the Miami Beach that once was and the many ways the lives of locals have changed over the years.
"In South Beach at the time, these people were raw, man," Ramos explains. "They lived off the ocean." In the 1970s, nobody was more emblematic of life lived by the ocean than Rene De Dios. By the time he was 20, De Dios, a Miami-Dade Community College student, was an icon. People would line up on South Beach first thing in the morning in the hopes of hopping into his van to drive with him to the Florida Keys to fish for sharks. They'd even volunteer to take his bait offshore, swimming with it at their own peril, just to earn his respect. He was larger than life.
The film, which was recently selected for the Miami International Film Festival's CinemaSlam and which can be supported through Indiegogo, does more than profile a bygone icon. It also paints a picture of a Miami that no longer exists. Before there was the South Pointe Pier most Miamians know, there was the First Street Pier. Back then, locals could cut bait, cast, and fish at their leisure from the pier. But as Miami Beach began to draw more tourists, the city began encroaching on the fishermen who had long called the pier home.
"Back in the day, you could dive off of Fifth Street and just swim a little bit out and catch lobster off of rocks," Ramos recalls. "If you go to any other island in the Caribbean, that’s how it is always. If you go to Cuba, if you go to the Bahamas, anywhere that is more untouched than Miami Beach, you can go and practically just jump off the beach and catch a lobster or spear a nice fish and eat it. Now you see little kids in Miami Beach with a fucking snorkel they bought at the store to look at murky water with toilet paper in it."
"Ninety-five percent of the people that live in Miami Beach now are transient or showed up on Miami Beach," Bustamante says. "They have no idea what it was back then." It's that "back then" that Ramos sets out to capture and convey to his audience.
"What I did here," the filmmaker explains, "was an homage to all the things I grew up with, all the things I learned from these people."
Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club. Part of Miami Film Festival's CinemaSlam. 1 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-237-FILM; miamifilmfestival.com. Tickets cost $13 via ev6.evenue.net.