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Details on ESPN's new documentary about UM football

via Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson:

No, director Billy Corben assures, the much-anticipated ESPN sequel to the “U” documentary will not evolve into The Nevin Shapiro Show.

“This is not what the movie is about,” Corben said, as he and producer Alfred Spellman craft another two-hour film about the University of Miami football program, set to air sometime this winter.

“Make no mistake, [the Shapiro saga] will be in there, but the focus is on the 2001 team.”

Even so, UM declined to participate, just as it did for the first film, which debuted in 2009 and drew the most viewers (2.3 million) ever for an ESPN documentary to that point.

This time around, UM denied their request to speak with president Donna Shalala, coach Al Golden, offensive line coach Art Kehoe and strength and conditioning coach Andrew Swasey.

“This is not a surprise to me but perhaps not the wisest strategy,” Corben said. “I’m never shocked but always disappointed by UM. They’re perpetually in damage control mode. Nobody wants to see the documentary the administration wants you to see. People want to see the unauthorized story.”

Throwback Thursday: 1986 Edna Buchanan feature in The New Yorker

via The New Yorker:

In the newsroom of the Miami Herald, there is some disagreement about which of Edna Buchanan’s first paragraphs stands as the classic Edna lead. I line up with the fried-chicken faction. The fried-chicken story was about a rowdy ex-con named Gary Robinson, who late one Sunday night lurched drunkenly into a Church’s outlet, shoved his way to the front of the line, and ordered a three-piece box of fried chicken. Persuaded to wait his turn, he reached the counter again five or ten minutes later, only to be told that Church’s had run out of fried chicken. The young woman at the counter suggested that he might like chicken nuggets instead. Robinson responded to the suggestion by slugging her in the head. That set off a chain of events that ended with Robinson’s being shot dead by a security guard. Edna Buchanan covered the murder for the Herald—there are policemen in Miami who say that it wouldn’t be a murder without her—and her story began with what the fried-chicken faction still regards as the classic Edna lead: “Gary Robinson died hungry.”

Edna Buchanan knows every policeman and policewoman in the area—even though Dade County has twenty-seven separate police forces, with a total strength of more than forty-five hundred officers. “I asked her if by any chance she happened to know this sergeant,” a Herald reporter once told me. “And she looked at her watch and said, ‘Yeah, but he got off his shift twenty minutes ago.’”

In Miami, a few figures are regularly discussed by first name among people they have never actually met. One of them is Fidel. Another is Edna.

Shop owner’s conviction shows Miami’s link to global black market in rhino horn

via Miami Herald:

The conviction of a Biscayne Boulevard shop owner this month was the latest crackdown by a federal task force targeting illegal trafficking in a substance that costs more per ounce than cocaine, or even gold.

Black rhino horn.

The horns, prized in some Asian nations as popular but unproven folk remedies, are at the center of an international black market with a hub in South Florida. High prices and demand have triggered a poaching bloodbath in Africa that threatens the survival of black rhinos and fueled a growing illegal trade in old taxidermy mounts from museums or private collections.

It’s a criminal network run like sex, gun and drug trafficking and is often linked to the same players, said Edward Grace, assistant director for the U.S. Department of Justice’s division of Wildlife Law Enforcement, which oversees a multiagency investigative effort called “Operation Crash.” Crash is another name for a herd of rhino.

“It’s like any drug investigation,’’ said Grace. “Take out cocaine or heroin and replace it with rhino horn.’’

Miami, already a nexus for smugglers dealing in an array of protected wildlife, also has figured in the illicit horn trade. There been three rhino-related busts in the last two years alone.

Miami Herald reviews The U

Glenn Garvin’s review reads like the UM administration’s worst nightmare:

Does the University of Miami offer a degree in cluelessness? Because most of the former players interviewed in ESPN’s documentary The U seem to have majored in it. For two solid hours they brag about their arrogance, their dirty play and even their outright criminality, smiling proudly during every moment.

Former quarterback Steve Walsh seems amused as he recounts bumping into “some pretty prominent players” wearing stocking caps, on their way for a night’s work of burglarizing autos. His teammate Brett Perriman recalls some Hurricane players dealing drugs, then adds unapologetically: “We got to eat. If that means we have to do something illegal, so be it.”

Those kind of disclosures seem almost benign when former center Don Bailey Jr. explains the football skills that made his team so great. “They were nasty,” he recollects jovially. “They’d spit. They’d fight. They’d bite. They’d kick.”

The U is a brilliant and horrifying history of the good-old-bad-old-days of the 1980s and early 1990s when UM — so the joke of the day went — topped all three football polls: AP, UPI and FBI. Filmmakers Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, a pair of UM graduates who specialize in documenting the hellacious dysfunction of their hometown (they also made Cocaine Cowboys, a spellbinding 2006 film on South Florida narcotrafficking in the ’80s) offer up a grimly fascinating portrait of a program reeling out of control:

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rakontur’s Decade of Decadence

via Rene Rodriguez / Miami Herald:

Here is a most unusual kind of haven in Miami — one where the business of movies, the craft of filmmaking and the love of cinema all intersect. No wonder they want to keep the location quiet.

Here, too, is something you won’t find anywhere else in South Florida: A multimedia company with a decade’s worth of work that has earned national attention; several intriguing projects in the pipeline (including what is likely to be their most commercial film to date); and absolutely no plans to ever relocate.

The bond between Corben, Spellman and Cypkin — who are all 33, became friends at Highland Oaks Middle School, made their first short film in high school and co-founded rakontur in 2001 — has grown stronger with each of their successes.

“Billy and Alfred have a strong Miami sensibility: Their movies are very redolent of that city,” says Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, which has distributed several of rakontur’s films theatrically and on DVD. “ Cocaine Cowboys did an amazing job of soaking up the color and culture and details of that era. But their greatest attribute is a nose for an interesting story. Every film they’ve done has had jaw-dropping aspects to it. They make you say ‘Whaaat?’ And they keep getting better as filmmakers. The leap from Raw Deal to Cocaine Cowboys was incredible, and they’ve only improved since then.”

Thoughts on The U

Miami Herald’s Dan LeBatard - Miami Hurricanes Succeed Where Others Are Failing:

Before Allen Iverson and Ron Artest, before Terrell Owens and OchoCinco, before Trick Daddy and Lil Wayne — before America was quite ready, in other words — there was championship University of Miami football. It was fun, violent, florescent, reckless and wonderful, but the street getting so close to the library was also pretty new then, and that particular kind of new can scare people the way black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson scared them by dating white women once upon a time.

Notre Dame’s Tim Brown admits now, all these years later, that the only time he was ever terrified playing football was against Miami — not because of the Orange Bowl noise or even the Hurricane talent but because of what he feared Miami’s players might do to him in the parking lot after the game. South Florida loved the so-very-Miami aura around those teams. America hated it.

ESPN is doing a two-hour documentary on UM’s renegade years this week. It is done by UM alums and will mostly embrace that fascinating time, but the current administration didn’t want anything to do with the film and even advised former players not to participate. UM has a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder about its past, understandably. You might, too, if the nation’s largest magazine in your field called for your eradication because it had, in its grandfatherly senility, confused you being edgy with you being evil.

But here’s the thing: This UM hasn’t been that UM in a really long time.

Palm Beach Post:

I’ve seen only clips of the UM documentary, but I’m very familiar with Corben’s prior work – “Cocaine Cowboys” is a classic and “Raw Deal: A Question of Consent” is a lesser-known but equally brilliant piece of work.

Corben is an unrepentant fan of the Hurricanes, particularly those ‘80s teams that were gangsta before there were gangstas. Who else would allow Luther Campbell to record the theme song to his documentary?

The Oklahoman:

ESPN Films’ “The U” documentary will bring back painful memories for OU football fans, as well as fans of other Big 12 powerhouses, including Nebraska and Texas.

Los Angeles Times:

Corben said he wishes he could have talked to defensive tackle Jerome Brown, who, while a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, died in an automobile accident in 1992.

"If Miami was the team of the ’80s then Jerome Brown was the player of the ’80s," he said.

Who can forget Brown leading his Miami teammates, all wearing military battle dress, off the plane after arriving to play Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl?

As Shockey says in the film, “It’s a ‘Cane thing.”

Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin - Screen Gems:

The U (9 p.m. Saturday, ESPN) — This documentary on University of Miami football in the 1980s  contains enough ugly spots — the pay-for-play allegations, the NCAA violations, the arrogance and hot-doggery of the players — that the university tried to kill it. But it’s also got the on-the-field performances that led to four national championships during the decade.

A rave review of The U from the Miami Herald

The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson says we got it right:

Some sensitive Hurricanes fans surely will not like the rehashing of the trash-talking, the over-the-top celebrations and the off-field scandals that are chronicled in The U, the two-hour University of Miami football documentary airing at 9 p.m. Dec. 12 on ESPN.

But after watching the film, the view here is that filmmakers and former UM students Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman accurately and colorfully capture the program’s glory years — blemishes and all — and strike the right balance between what made UM so dominant and dynamic, and what made it a target for critics.

The film is an enjoyable trip down memory lane, filled with unforgettable game footage, amusing anecdotes and entertaining interviews with more than 30 people who made the program matter.

Corben and Spellman focused mostly on 1983 to 1991 — when UM won four of its five national titles — and allocated only a few minutes to what has happened since. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea if the filmmakers quickly touched on the past few seasons and acknowledged the players’ exemplary conduct in recent years (just one known arrest — Robert Marve — in Randy Shannon’s three years in charge).

Remember, this is not a tribute to UM football. A tribute would only gloss over the negative.

But this is more compelling than a tribute because it gives the full picture of how those teams captured a nation’s attention.

UM’s story doesn’t add up

The phone starting ringing early this morning: parents, friends, our partners at ESPN, sports talk radio producers. 

Everyone wanted to talk about Barry Jackson’s article in the Miami Herald about The U, which is the most commented and most viewed article on the paper’s website today:

Even NBC’s White House correspondent (and Canes fan) Chuck Todd weighed in on Twitter:

The question of the day is: what went down with UM and why did it refuse to cooperate?

Jackie Menendez, UM’s vice president/communications, told Barry Jackson:

the school declined to allow the interviews or participate in the project because Corben wasn’t willing to allow UM officials to read the script in advance.

Two problems with this tale:

1) A documentary doesn’t have a script.  When you’re making a documentary, you conduct interviews and piece together the story.  At the end, you have a transcript. Asking for a script in advance is like telling a newspaper reporter you won’t give a quote for an article unless you can read the article first.

2) UM officials never asked for a script.  Mark Pray asked for a treatment, which is basically an outline or synopsis:

On Feb 13, 2008, at 5:03 PM, Pray, Mark W. wrote:

Hey Billy,

Yes, I knew it was the project we discussed last year.  However, I never received a detailed overview of your project.  Before we move forward, please send us a written treatment as discussed. Thanks.

Billy replied:

From: Billy Corben
Date: February 14, 2008 1:40:26 AM EST
To: “Mark W. Pray”
Cc: “Alfred Spellman (rakontur)”
Subject: Re: FILM: Hurricane Season ESPN President Shalala and Tad Foote

Dear Mark,

Attached please find a detailed description of the project. As you’ll see from the treatment and our interview request list below, we are very interested in local recruits, the impact that historical events in Miami had on the development of the team and how the reputation of the team encouraged coaches and players to commit to UM.

We would appreciate any help you can provide in securing on-camera interviews with the following folks from the Athletic Department and Academic Administration:

Randy Shannon
Paul Dee
Art Kehoe
Edward Foote

The University of Miami should just come clean with its reason for not participating, whatever that is.  

MIAMI HERALD: University of Miami resists ESPN documentary, but will show it


Inside a Miami Beach office that feels like a not-too-reverential Hurricanes shrine, the finishing touches are being applied to the documentary of record on the University of Miami football program.

Stacks of old newspaper clippings and UM media guides sit atop a table. A Ray Lewis action figure poses menacingly on a desk, and a stuffed “Ibis” lurks across the room. A UM pin cushion and Canes pillow are propped on the couch.

Director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman aren’t only accomplished filmmakers — they’re also former UM students. Corben believes Canes fans will be pleased when their two-hour documentary, The U, airs at 9 p.m. Dec. 12 on ESPN, in a high-profile slot following the Heisman Trophy show.

“For Canes fans, this will be a reminder of what they loved about this team. For Canes haters, this will be a reminder of what they hated about this team,” said Corben, who has crafted six films with Spellman, most notably Cocaine Cowboys. “I’m also hoping the haters might walk away with some passing appreciation of what the team brought to the table in terms of their pop culture contributions, the merger of sports and entertainment, the style of game played.

Cocaine Cowboys debuts in Florida congressional race

Miami Herald profile on Black Sunday @ Bella Rose

The crowd is what some may consider the next generation of South Beach partygoers - a purely hip locals’ scene attracting South Florida’s “Cool Kids” as well as those who just refuse to leave the beach and are looking to improve an often dull night. But just because it’s Sunday night doesn’t mean South Beach hours change. In fact, this party climaxes between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m., so make sure to get an afternoon nap in, because you’ll most likely be jamming out to old school hip-hop and classic 80s tunes until your Monday morning alarm sounds.

Little Black Book: Bella Rose (Miami Herald)

via Miami Herald:

What: Bella Rose, 423 16th St., Miami Beach

Who goes: Lindsay Lohan — and we’re assuming her DJ galpal Samantha Ronson; Miami movie producer Alfred Spellman of rakontur (Cocaine Cowboys) is a part owner; and DJ Tom Laroc — doing his live video mixing Thursday nights — is a staple.

Vibe: The anti-South Beach. No shiny, glitzy furnishings. No guest list. No velvet rope. This small lounge feels like 2000s indie-kids took over a 1960s New York City bar.

Best night to go: Black Sundays, when you can hang out really late with the Cool Kids (we’re talking 4 a.m. on a school night!) and be part of their viral home movies, which reach their pinnacle with someone being killed. For fun, of course.

• Doors open at 11 p.m.

Miami Herald covers ESPN’s The U announcement

ESPN schedules a documentary about Miami Hurricane football — and hold your breath…

ESPN has ordered a documentary on the University of Miami’s football program. But don’t expect a rah-rah booster flick. It’s being produced by Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben, whose last documentary was Cocaine Cowboys, a searing recollection of the 1980s when narcotrafficker corpses piled up so fast that Dade County had to rent refrigerated trailers to handle the morgue overflow. (Spellman and Corben have produced a sequel about narcoqueen Griselda Blanco — Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin’ With The Godmother — that’s scheduled for DVD release this month.)

The UM documentary will air as part of a series called 30 for 30 — 30 films covering sports events of the past 30 years, commemorating ESPN’s 30th anniversary in 2009. No air date has been set. But ESPN’s announcement of the acquisition noted pointedly: “No program’s style has been more of a lightning rod for simultaneous excellence and controversy than the University of Miami.”

"We recommend checking out Bella Rose"

Lesley Abravanel shows us some love in her Velvet Underground column:

With snowbirds away, locals will play

Just because hurricane season is two days away doesn’t mean you have to batten down your social hatches and stay inside. Now’s the time for us locals to take back our city and appreciate the things that throngs of tourists pay good money for. We recommend checking out Bella Rose, the new bar/lounge at 423 16th St. in Miami Beach, where one recent Friday night some of us, ahem, were just mesmerized by the video screens playing old-school Janet Jackson, Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg and even SWV. A purely locals’ scene, Bella Rose is reminiscent of the days of South Beach before the billion-dollar bottle club came to town. And if you think about it: When was the last time you actually paid attention to a Janet Jackson video?

Bella Rose mention in Miami Herald

via Lesley Abravanel’s Velvet Underground column:

Liberating those of us who are over the whole bottle service situation in clubland is Bella Rose, a new lounge at 423 16th St., Miami Beach, opened by Keith Paciello (yes, the brother of that other Paciello) and filmmaker Alfred Spellman, who told us ”We were getting really tired of the same stale bottle service nightlife options, so we wanted to do a small room, kind of a throwback to The Spot or Lua.” Wow, a real blast from the distant past. The Spot and Lua, for those who weren’t here, were two of the hottest hangouts way back when.
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