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South Beach Shark Club Documentary Gets the Seal of Approval From Billy Corben

South Beach Shark Club Documentary Gets the Seal of Approval From Billy Corben
Courtesy of William Fundora
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When Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club made its debut in Miami earlier this year, it surpassed the highest expectations of its filmmakers. The short film that started out as a final project at the Miami Dade College film school went on to win five awards at Miami International Film Festival's CinemaSlam before being chosen as an official selection for the Stock Island Film Festival in Key West and named Best Miami Documentary by New Times.

Since then, Robert Ramos and Pedro Gomez, the respective director and producer of the documentary, have been hard at work, building on that momentum. They've started their own production company, Seventh Wind Studios, and have poured time, energy, and resources into turning the 17-minute documentary into a feature-length film.

Now they want to give viewers a glimpse of the fruits of their labor. The documentary will make its Miami Beach premiere with a special screening featuring new footage at the Marseilles Hotel on South Beach Friday, November 2. The festivities will include an open bar, live music, free tacos from Bodega, and a silent auction. All proceeds from the auction and screening tickets will go toward funding the feature film.

The short documentary focused mainly on Rene De Dios, the Miami Beach icon of shark fishing who attracted so many followers, fans, and devotees that they formed the South Beach Shark Club. It also offered a look at what Miami Beach once was to these young ramblers of yesteryear. The new film dives deeper into that history and then goes further, exploring the present and the future of the culture of these fishermen.

Much of the new film revolves around one man: Shannon Bustamante. Born and raised south of Fifth Street back when that part of the beach was still primarily made up of housing projects, Bustamente was also born into the lifestyle of shark fishing. He grew up with De Dios, learned to fish from him, and has become a man wholly intent on carrying the torch passed to him by men like De Dios and continuing their legacy.

"Shannon's story is the story of the shark club too," explains Ramos. "Even though he was born a little bit later, he had to grow up really fast and was influenced by these guys who grew up in the late '60s and early '70s in Miami Beach... He's the last thread that's sort of keeping it alive at this point in a world that's changed so much since then. I don't know if anyone else could keep it alive the way Shannon does."

"When we started doing this, I thought the focus should be more on shark fishing and Rene De Dios," notes Gomez, "but as we've gotten to know Shannon more, being with him, meeting his family, fishing with him, learning all about his background, I almost see this as a hero's journey for Shannon."

Robert Ramos, left, and Pedro Gomez, right, are the men behind Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club.
Robert Ramos, left, and Pedro Gomez, right, are the men behind Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club.
Photo by Travis Cohen

Fostering this short film into a feature hasn't been a cakewalk for the duo. As Ramos is quick to point out, making a movie is hard work, from filling out all kinds of paperwork to acquire the rights to use archival materials to filing legal documents to transcribing dozens of hours worth of interviews and historical footage.

"We've gone out to the Keys for two days straight, basically sleeping on a bridge or not sleeping at all," says Ramos. "Taking refuge under a tent while giant thunderstorms passed over us," interjects Gomez. "Just really living the lives of the shark fishermen while we make this film," explains the director.

Perhaps the most significant recent development has been the addition of another auteur's point of view to the filmmaking process, that of a director whose name is synonymous with "Miami documentary" — Billy Corben. After seeing their film and selecting it as a judge for the Stock Island Film Festival, the documentarian known for classics like Cocaine Cowboys and 30 for 30: The U had only one critique.

"I was obviously very impressed with it and really enjoyed it and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, my one criticism to them was it was too short," recalls Corben. "It almost struck me as a sizzle reel for a feature doc. It was kind of like a mere teaser, holding out promise for a longer story that I hoped would come."

Since the Stock Island fest, Corben has met with Ramos and Gomez a handful of times, offering advice on how to best complete the documentary and working with them on the structure of the film's narrative. He looks at the dynamic as a sort of mentorship and says that he and his production company, Rakontur, will almost certainly continue to be a part of the project going forward.

"There is not a shark fishing story in just any city in America," notes Corben. "There's a finite number of cities where you're going to find something like that, particularly in a place as diverse and colorful and dangerous as Miami Beach in that era. What an exciting and bizarre and dangerous subculture to tell the story about. Obviously, it interests me and Rakontur, and I think it's going to capture the attention and the imagination of a lot of people around the world."

Rene De Dios and the South Beach Shark Club. 7 p.m. Friday, November 2, at the Marseilles Hotel, 1741 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-538-5711; marseilleshotel.com. Tickets cost $20 via eventbrite.com.

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