Jonathan David Kane directed Papa Machete, a short documentary about the little-known Haitian art of machete fencing, that world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and made its U.S. debut at the Sundance Film Festival this week. Kane is also Minister of Justice for Borscht Corp., arguably Miami’s weirdest and most well-known film collaborative. We caught up with Kane before he left for Park City, to ask him about making movies in Miami and what’s next for Miami film and filmmakers.
Q: So let’s start with the obvious question first — Papa Machete is the first documentary you’ve directed. What’s it like to go to Sundance?
A: “I’m still speechless about the whole thing. It’s an amazing thing to have happen for this film. To world premiere at Toronto and now play Sundance is quite an honor and the whole team and I are just really proud of the work we’ve done.
This will be my first time going to Sundance as a director. I have been there previously as a producer and have had work there as a cinematographer, but it’s a whole different ball game going there as a director.”
Q: You’ve mentioned that you think we’re at a critical point for filmmaking in Miami. Can you explain what you mean by that?
A: “I feel like there’s always been commercial and music video work that has sustained an industry down here. I came up in that industry, making commercials and music videos, but really seeing a barren landscape of honest portrayals of Miami stories.
There have always been these feature films imported from Los Angeles or New York that told what were perceived as Miami stories, but were really Hollywood shenanigans or bad representations of the archetypal, lavish self-indulgence that’s been bestowed on our city.
In the past decade, but really in the past five years, there’s been a shift in filmmaking both here and around the country and around the world, spurred by the democratization of filmmaking technology. So we’re seeing these regional stories take the spotlight, because storytellers from all different walks of life are now finally able to tell their stories.
I’m sure there have always been people making movies down here, and just getting lost in the wash. What’s fascinating is that these projects like Papa Machete are going to world-renowned fests like TIFF and Sundance and so many other films — like Bleeding Palm’s The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal and Bernardo Britto’s Yearbook — are getting recognition on a national or international stage. For the first time these regional, Miami stories are getting critical acclaim.
I find that brings us to a very critical point in Miami’s filmmaking community, because all this critical acclaim is coming from short film, and nobody’s really stepped into the feature film arena from this community as of yet, except Kenny Riches who made a micro-budget feature [The Strongest Man] that was accepted to Sundance, so he’s the first one out of the gate.
But, it’s not until the local financial community is willing to take risks and invest in some of these filmmakers who are receiving critical acclaim within the shorts world that we’re going to have a film scene on that next level.”
Q: So, what would it take for Miami film to make that leap?
A: “The only private investment in the film community right now that’s not either crowdsourced or knocking on friends’ and families’ doors for nickels and dimes, is The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation giving arts challenge grants to artists, including filmmakers. That’s great, it’s really a catalyst in our community, and I am incredibly thankful for their support.
Investors in Miami are starting to see technology as a viable industry, and they’re starting to spend real money and see real results. I think that if entrepreneurs were to put that same kind of money into feature filmmaking, with all the critical success that Miami is getting on regional short film, we could see something really exciting and it could spur honest, regional narrative storytelling out of this community that we can be proud of and that could turn profit, instead of just waiting for the same sort of commercial and music videos to be imported from other more successful entertainment communities in the nation. That faucet turns on and off. A consistent and thriving film industry comes from investing in creatives locally.”
Q: It’s really interesting that you’re drawing this parallel between filmmaking and technology. Miami also has this very strong arts scene as well. Filmmaking seems like an intersection of the art and technology worlds, is that fair?
A: Filmmaking is a very interesting amalgamation of technology and art. It’s a very technical craft that relies on advancements in audio-visual technology, but at the same time requires the imagination and freedom of an artist.
I feel like there’s a convergence happening within all of these mediums, where technology is becoming this less-rigid, much more free-flowing and expansive idea sector, and art is incorporating much more technology into new mediums. All of these things are coming together to redefine what filmmaking really is.
There’s a big question mark on what filmmaking in the next 10, 20, 30 years is going to look like. What will the theatrical space look like when 360-degree cameras are affordable to everyone? Or when the Oculus Rift allows us to be able to experience things in virtual reality? Or when we’re able to live-shoot a film while a theatrical audience is acting as the extras in your movie?
There’s this redrawing of the boundaries of art, of filmmaking, of technology, and I don’t know that moving forward those boundaries will be distinctly defined. And I think that the blurring of the lines and the innovation that we find on the edges is really fascinating and exciting. I think that Miami can play a big part in that, and that it’s worth supporting as a community.”
Q: Why do you think filmmaking hasn’t quite tapped in yet to those big financial centers in Miami?
A: “Filmmaking is an adventurous investment, and also a large investment. That’s not necessarily a disadvantage, but these things take time. It took over a decade for arts in this city to get where it is today. Thats years of exponential growth.
We’re just starting to see what the possibilities are for the filmmaking community here. The short filmmakers I collaborate with through the Borscht Corporation are just now starting to make that leap into feature filmmaking as well. And I see other pockets of collectives and filmmaking artists doing the same.
If you look at the history of Hollywood films shot here or that have any kind of connection to Miami, there are maybe one or two that have serious merit or critical acclaim to them. What do you have? Adaptation, a really good, heady film that doesn’t necessarily deal with any particular aspect of Miami or South Florida, but has the flavor of the environment. Any Given Sunday, that’s an Oliver Stone film, and even with this example you’re starting to get into these stereotypes of lavish excess. Then there’s Donnie Brasco, Scarface, Fair Game, There’s Something About Mary, these are all Hollywood hits set around an exaggerated Miami stereotype, not a real Miami. The closest thing you get to an honest Miami film is maybe The Birdcage? Even Ace Ventura is just using Miami as a backdrop for Hollywood shenanigans. When these movies were being made the studio systems had no room for authentic films from our community.
So, I think it’s now a very interesting time where we, from this community, get to tell the stories that we grew up with or that we feel are unique and worth sharing with the world, and there is finally an interested audience nationally and internationally seeking these authentic stories out. Its only a matter of time until these efforts are met with the necessary financial support from those big financial centers in Miami, and our budding film scene explodes into a movement.”
Q: In the past, it seems as though Miami has also exported filmmakers. Do you think there’s any change in that?
A: Miami is a very young city. I think my generation of filmmakers and artists, my generation of Miamians, we’ve come of age with the city, whereas previously the city maybe didn’t hold its own when compared with other entertainment or arts industrial communities.
We’re finally seeing the Miami that is leading the way as metropolitan to the worldwide community, and we’re starting to feel there’s no reason to go other places. When Borscht first started, it started in a high school, and everybody went away to college in New York or wherever they went, and everyone realized that those communities weren’t any better than the community that we had here.
That happened to me. I went to Florida State, I was planning on moving to New York. After spending some time in those communities, I realized that I could be just as successful in my hometown and not have to re-identify where I’m from or tell stories that I wasn’t familiar with.
I came back, and I’ve been able to make a career. And, I think that Miami is a great place to make film. I think with the right support, it could be even better.”