One day this past October, filmmaker Aaron Salgado found inspiration while shacking up in a motel room on SW Eighth Street. "I was hosting a female friend," the 24-year-old son of Peruvian parents recollects, "when the seed was planted: Do a movie about the motels on Calle Ocho."
Within a month of his nocturnal epiphany, the goateed Salgado and his filmmaking cohort, J.D. Freixas, wrote and filmed Jamaica Motel, a twelve-minute drama that describes a dark and raunchy realm where clandestine adulterers, prostitutes working their johns, and drug dealers on the grind can rent rooms by the hour.
Jamaica Motel tells the story of an undercover cop who catches his cheating wife and her lover in a motel room next door to gun-packing marimberos. The Miami-born childhood buddies titled their opus after the real Jamaica Motel at 4601 SW Eighth St.
The joint has a tawdry past. Back in 2003, a fourteen-year-old girl told prosecutors that Miami Police Ofcr. Jesus Gutierrez picked her up and drove to the Jamaica, a place where $30 bought a room for two hours, and there was porn on the television and mirrors on the ceiling. Gutierrez was later convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. (Prices are the same today, according to a clerk who answered the phone last week: $69 for the night, less than half that for two hours.)
Last Thursday Salgado and Freixas (they are present and former film students) screened their movie before a photogenic young crowd, including family and friends, at La Piaggia restaurant in South Beach. Among the attendees were cast members and local rappers Tropyco of the SoFla Kingz, and Andres "Cuatro" Dominguez, who played the lead role of Miami detective Raul in Jamaica Motel.
In the movie, Raul's wife Caro (played by Monica Minagorri) engages in some hanky-panky with her lover Mike (played by Michael Cardelle) in one room at the Jamaica while Raul works a prostitution sting in another room. In still another habitación, the wild dreadlocked Tropyco and L.E.X., also a Miami hip-hop artist, play blunt-blazing criminals Gomez and Stress, respectively, who are waiting to score $5000 in cocaine from their neighborhood supplier.
All hell breaks loose when Raul goes out into the parking lot and notices his wife's car. He proceeds to bang on all the motel room doors to find her. The movie concludes with Raul, his fellow officers, and the narco-traffickers, who believed Raul was coming after them, shooting each other in a climactic gun battle. But we never learn who lives and dies at the end.
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Salgado and Freixas, a 23-year-old Cuban American with a cherubic face, grew up in Miami hearing stories about the Jamaica. They figured the inn's name would resonate with other Miamians familiar with Calle Ocho motels, Freixas explains. So far they've shown the movie only to family and friends. "We're not making any money on this film," Freixas explains.
Though the film isn't commercially available, Jamaica Motel owner Julio del Rey is apparently not pleased. He threatened legal action against the moviemaking pair because the work would "disparage his business," Freixas explains. Del Rey did not return two phone calls made to the Jamaica seeking comment.
Freixas also revealed they had to shoot exterior scenes at motels in Dania Beach because Eighth Street motel operators were reluctant to assist the aspiring movie moguls. "Some of them wanted to physically fight us," he says. But it was a risk worth taking, Freixas adds. "I only want to produce films about the real Miami," he says. "If that means some people don't like us, so be it."
You can catch Jamaica Motel this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the University of Miami Canes Film Festival at the Bill Cosford Cinema on campus.