Filmmakers Tom Musca and Tony Mendez’ new short, Dying to Direct, will have its world premiere at Miami Dade College’s 40th annual Miami Film Festival (MFF) on Thursday, Mar. 9, 6:30 p.m., at the Silverspot 16 in Downtown Miami.
This unflinching and unpredictable film tackles the big issues — illness, love, legacy, and death — in a straightforward drama that veers into black comedy. It comes just three years after Musca’s last MFF premiere, Chateau Vato starring Paul Rodriguez and Elpidia Carrillo, five years after his Make Love Great Again, both which aired on HBO, and 35 years after the screening of his first MFF entry — the award-winning Oscar-nominated Stand and Deliver, now preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
Dying to Direct tackles a subject most spend their lives avoiding — what it means to contemplate the end of life. In this case, it’s a TV director who wants to maintain control until his last breath and beyond; his goodbye act serving as his final directorial effort. Shot entirely on location in Miami, Musca who heads the screenwriting tract at the University of Miami, adapted the screenplay from his short story, and then teamed with his former student Tony Mendez to produce and co-direct the film. Mendez has served as an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and currently teaches Digital Media at SLAM Miami, a charter school in Little Havana.
Musca said, “I’m at a stage in my life where I have personally seen many friends and family through their own cancer odysseys. Everyone — as well as the circle that surrounds them — approaches death with different degrees of denial, acceptance, anger, peace, and counterintuitively, even humor. It’s not all gloom and doom. Tony and I wanted to make a bold film that faced that struggle straight on, but via a complicated, unorthodox protagonist making seemingly impossible demands on his romantic partner and his closest friend. With this film we hope to trigger a timely discussion on cancer, death and the whole end of life experience which is way overdue.”
Musca underscores the difficulty of telling such a complex, nuanced story in a short film, and editor Tony Mendez was up for the challenge deploying all his professional experience, including stints at National Geographic, and producing films for HBO, WUSA9 and PBS. With Dying to Direct clocking in at 30 minutes, it’s eligible for Academy Awards consideration as a live action short. Musca does have a track record with awards — Stand and Deliver was Golden Globes and Oscar-nominated and received six Independent Spirit Awards, including best screenplay and best film honors.
Additionally, the filmmakers plan to submit the film to major festivals, pursue licensing, and explore other means to attract notice that could provide financing to potentially fund a full-length version. Created using a crew comprised of a mix of students and professionals, the film is entered in the Knight Made in MIA category at the MFF.
“Miami offers unique opportunities for filmmakers that I really didn’t fully appreciate until I moved here. Talent, fantastic natural scenery, hospitable weather, and more colorful locations than L.A. can offer — it’s all readily available and at an affordable budget that creates a lot of jealousy with my former colleagues on the west coast. And I have the added privilege of being able to collaborate and work with individuals I’ve personally trained — my students,” Musca said.
About Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival
Celebrating cinema in two annual events, Miami Film Festival (40th annual edition Mar. 3-12) and Miami Film Festival GEMS (November), Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival is considered the preeminent film festival for showcasing Ibero-American cinema in the U.S., and a major launch pad for all international and documentary cinema.
The annual festival welcomes more than 45,000 audience members and more than 400 filmmakers, producers, talent and industry professionals. It is the only major festival housed within a college or university. In the past five years, the festival has screened films from more than 60 countries, including 300 World, International, North American, U.S. and East Coast premieres.
Major sponsors of Miami Film Festival GEMS include Knight Foundation, Telemundo, American Airlines, Estrella Damm, Telemundo, NBC6 and Miami-Dade County. The Festival also offers unparalleled educational opportunities to film students and the community at large.
For more information, visit miamifilmfestival.com or call 305-237-FILM (3456).
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