Life story

Here is the real story of “Reefa”, a new HBO Max film about the life and death of a Miami Street artist.

This weekend, a new biopic will arrive on HBO Max, telling the story of Israel Hernandez-Llach, a real Miami street artist who was killed by police in August 2013.

Hernandez-Llach, 18 at the time, was spray painting an abandoned McDonald’s when a local police unit approached. The artist flees; officers pursued and eventually arrested the high school student with a taser. Hernandez-Llach later died in their care.

After dropping their target, the officers traded high-fives, according to the friends of the young artist who witnessed the incident.

The dramatized versions of these moments form the climax of Reefa, the film written and directed by Miami-based filmmaker Jessica Kavana Dornbusch and named after the graffiti name of Hernandez-Llach.

The rest of the film, meanwhile, exposes the issues of the titular subject during the summer preceding that fateful night, often with a heavy dose of creative license.

Hernandez-Llach is portrayed as a voracious creative, constantly skateboarding and skirting angry cops on the neon-lit streets, or bumping his head with his father, a Colombian immigrant eagerly awaiting the arrival of green cards. for her family. He wants to move to New York for an art school.

The film opens with the street artist preparing his “magnum opus”: a mural on an abandoned Miami hotel (a replacement for McDonald’s) that will introduce him to the city’s art world.

“I wanted to focus on the life of Israel during the last two weeks before his death,” Dornbusch said CBSMiami in April. “He had just obtained an art grant. He was about to go to New York. He had found love for the first time. He spent time painting and time with his family and friends, then the tragic end. “

Originally intended for the Miami Film Festival 2020 (which was canceled due to the pandemic), Reefa debuted this spring on video on demand and in select theaters. The film will likely grab its biggest audience yet when it hits HBO this weekend.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t plan a more opportune time in history to release this movie,” Dornbusch said. “I think it will resonate. This gives statistics a name and a face.

Dornbusch worked on Reefa for over six years, she explained in a recent blog post. Getting the project off the ground was a daunting task involving multiple fundraising efforts and a standoff with Miami Beach Police that resulted in production being temporarily halted.

Tyler Dean Flores, the Harlem-born Puerto Rican actor who plays Hernandez-Llach in the film, told CBS he hopes that “this will raise tremendous awareness about his case and many other cases involving police violence.”

“I also hope that people will feel very inspired by the creativity of the Israeli family and the pursuit of their passions,” Flores added. “No matter what situations you find yourself in, if you want to create, create. If you want to express yourself, speak up.

A still of Reefa (2020). Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

After their son’s death, Hernandez-Llach’s parents held a press conference in which they called for an independent investigation. About two years later, in 2015, a Miami-Dade lawyer announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the officers involved in the incident, saying forensic pathologists had determined the death was accidental.

In 2017, the city of Miami Beach would have paid $ 100,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the victim’s family. They did not admit any wrongdoing.

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