REEFA is a feature film based on the true story of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, an 18-year-old art prodigy. Israel and his family moved to Miami, Florida from Barranquilla, Colombia on an asylum visa to escape the intensifying threats they had faced back home. Israel’s artistic talent was obvious from a young age, but it flourished during his time at Miami Beach Senior High School, earning him numerous national accolades. His name began popping up all over Wynwood, the mecca for street artists and graffiti writers. Established artists sought out “Reefa” for his beautiful flowers with distinct petals.
Israel was looking forward to his last summer in Miami with his family and friends before moving to New York City on an art scholarship. He met Frankie, an up-and-coming model in town for a few weeks. Israel and Frankie formed an instant bond, and their improbable friendship became a passionate young love story. On August 6, 2013, Israel decided to spray paint his last wall. There, he was discovered by Miami Beach police officers who chased down, beat, and eventually killed him with a taser using excessive force. Israel’s death sparked outrage in the Miami community and prompted rallies demanding justice, answers, and police reform. The United Nations Committee against Torture is currently examining the case of Israel Hernandez.
The film REEFA is being made with the support of the Hernandez family.
Starring Jeffrey Wahlberg as Israel Hernandez
Letter From the Director
I first heard Israel’s story in August 2013. News of his death spread quickly, featuring on local and national news. Though Israel's story haunted me, it would be a year before I had the courage to reach out to his family to discuss the possibility of turning their son’s life into a feature film. At the time, stories of unarmed civilians unnecessarily killed by the police seemed endless. But for me, there was always something different about Israel’s story. Perhaps it was that he had been killed on a street my friends and I frequented during our high-school and post-college days. Perhaps it was that Israel and I were both the children of immigrants, and as such, I knew first-hand the sacrifices immigrant-parents go through, what they leave behind, in order to raise their families in America. Like Israel’s mother, I too have a son and a daughter who are incredibly close, and to quote Israel’s sister Offir, “to learn how to live without my brother is to learn how to live without my arm.” It was all these things and the image of a beautiful boy skateboarding through Miami, as many artists painted homages to Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, that inspired and encouraged me to make this film. Then from the moment I met Israel’s family and saw his artwork close-up, I knew this story had to be told.
That was four years ago, and it has been a long journey trying to get this film from script to screen. There have been many sleepless nights spent feeling the immense responsibility of telling Israel’s story; the Hernandez family has tremendous faith in me. Ultimately, I knew this film was worth fighting for, and I’m so glad that I not only stuck with it but also found partners who were willing to fight to make the movie with me.
We are so close to making the film REEFA a reality. Now more than ever, films like these need to be made. We need to see life through the eyes of immigrants to truly understand their sacrifice. Most importantly, the world needs to see the beauty of an artistic soul. We are making a movie about Israel’s life, not his death: a love letter to my city and to an artist I will never meet but admire and know so well.
Thank you for your support.
The Artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez
Jessica Kavana Dornbusch (Writer, Director, Producer) is a writer, director, and producer best known for her film Love and Debate (2006), a coming of age story based on her experiences as a high school and college debater. With continued determination to create Made-in-Miami films, Kavana Dornbusch followed her feature film debut with two short films, Escape (2012) and Snap (2015), both filmed in Miami and using Miami locals as actors. Since graduating with honors from Boston University with a BA in Film and International Studies, she has written multiple television pilots and founded Adir 26 Films.
Alejandro Suaya (Producer) is an Argentinian producer and media executive. Since entering the entertainment industry in 1991, he has produced episodes of such popular TV series as Ciega a citas (2009) and Hospital Público (2003) and the documentary Las Manos al piano (2009). Alejandro is CEO of Paradiso Distribution LLC and founding partner and COO of Rola Entertainment, which handles theatrical distribution for Warner Bros Pictures and The Walt Disney Studios. He is currently working on the production of three films: Guilas in Costa Rica, Yo, Mi Mujer y Mi Mujer Muerta in Spain and Argentina, and Reefa in the U.S.
George Perez (Producer) is a businessman and investor born in New York City and currently residing in Miami. In addition to his many business ventures, George has built close ties to film industry leaders and has acted as a consultant on numerous film projects. Most notably, he served as the Co-Producer of Kill the Irishman (2011) and as an Associate Producer of 300: Rise of an Empire (2014).
Ed Arenas (Producer) has been working in the film industry for over 25 years. He has cast over 107 feature films including Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, and Louis Leterrier and Luc Besson’s Transporter 2. Ed is a passionate supporter of emerging talent, young directors, and cutting-edge, independent films. He has championed several women directors, including Laurie Collyer for Sunlight Jr. with Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon (TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL) and Allison Anders for Things Behind the Sun with Eric Stoltz, Rosanne Arquette and Don Cheadle (SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL).
Daniel Burman (Executive Producer) is an Argentinian film director, screenwriter, and producer. In 1995, he launched his own production company BD-CINE (Burman and Dubcovsky Cine) together with Diego Dubcovsky. Burman is also a founding member of the Academy of Argentine Cinema. According to film critic Joel Poblete, who writes for the cinema magazine Mabuse, Daniel Burman is one of the members of the "New Argentina Cinema,” which began circa 1998. As a Co-producer, he is recognized by films such as The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and Truman (2015). Recently, his TV series EDHA (2018) was bought by Netflix.
Mike McGowan (Cinematographer) is a 3rd generation filmmaker born and raised in Miami. For the last 25 years, he has worked in the camera department in positions ranging from film loader to Director of Photography on over 60 feature films, 15 seasons of episodic television, and hundreds of commercials and music videos. His work as a steadicam operator has taken him to over 50 countries and earned him entrance into the SOC (the Society of Camera Operators) in 2002. Some of his more notable credits include: The Florida Project, Benji, The Beach Bum, Springbreakers, Wild Things, 2Fast 2Furious, Transporter, Bad Boys, True Lies, Burn Notice, CSI Miami, Dexter, and Amazing Race.
In the Media
Israel Hernandez’s death featured on local, national, and international news outlets. It sparked outrage, inspired a movement, encouraged a reevaluation of policing practices in Miami, and prompted an ongoing UN investigation into the cause of death.
"His death prompted Hernadez’s family to file a lawsuit against the City of Miami Beach and its police, accusing officers of excessive force for their response to such a minor crime — a second-degree misdemeanor that would not likely have resulted in prosecution." Read the full article in the Huffington Post here.
"The death of Hernandez, a graduate of Miami Beach Senior High School and an aspiring artist who had won several local awards for his work, is among a number of recent similar fatalities involving police Tasers in the Miami area." Read the full article in the Guardian here.
"'He was an amazing artist, a very passionate person, a very passionate artist,' said his sister, Offir Hernandez. 'It's unfair to end his life for something he loved.'" Read the full article at CNN here.
"According to Amnesty International, more than 500 people have died in the United States since 2001 after being shocked with stun guns such as Tasers." Read the full article in the New York Times here.
"For criminal justice observers, the decision was not unexpected because of the high legal threshold in charging police officers in Florida...No Florida police officer has been charged with an on-duty shooting since 1989." Read the full article in the Miami Herald here.
Check out a few of the skateboards and stickers available as rewards for supporting our film! All originally designed by Israel "Reefa" Hernandez.
Risks and challenges
As with any movie production, there are various risks and challenges. We are offsetting those risks with production insurance, contingency plans, and a production team with years and years of experience. If you fund the project, we intend to start pre-production right away, shoot this coming March, and finish the film in time to submit it to some of the major festivals.
With respect to rewards fulfillment, we will work hard to get all your digital downloads and goodies delivered safely and on schedule. For those of you who are attending an event or joining us on set, we will do our best to keep you in the loop on our schedule. We’ll be posting regular updates about our progress to all backers, so you’ll be the first to know what’s going on.
Important Information About Rewards:
For those of you visiting our set, we anticipate shooting in April in Miami. However, this has the potential to change. We will keep you updated so you can plan ahead to visit us.
If you become an extra ($500 reward), you must be a US citizen or have a US work visa, and not be a member of SAG/AFTRA.
You must be over 18 or accompanied by a parent or legal guardian (who will count as your plus one) to attend the premiere or visit the set. Extras must also be over 18.
Some rewards may require additional paperwork. If you are appearing in the film, you will have to sign a release.
This fundraising campaign is all subject to applicable Kickstarter rules/regulations, movie guild rules and applicable law. If any of this conflicts, we will work with you in good faith to give you a substitute reward.
Overall, movie making is a crazy business with a lot of unknown factors. We start with a powerful story and a script we’re really proud of. We assemble the best team possible, get insurance, and make contingency plans. There are no guarantees everything will go as planned, but in the end, we will have created a movie that hopefully will inspire audiences. It's a great journey, and we thank you in advance for helping make this possible.
- (30 days)