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By Ray Lobo | April 20, 2021

Israel ‘Reefa’ Hernandez and his family moved from Colombia to Miami in search of a better life. Unfortunately, he became ensnared in America’s enduring dysfunctions — police brutality and the precariousness of life as a minority immigrant. Writer/director Jessica Kavana Dornbusch’s Reefa is based on Reefa’s real life. Dornbusch covers Reefa’s family life, friendships, burgeoning career as a graffiti artist, and his place in Miami’s art scene.

Most of the world’s idea of Miami is South Beach. Whenever one of Miami’s professional teams gets national coverage, the image shown right before the cut to commercial is Ocean Drive’s Art Deco row of hotels, restaurants, and bars. Reefa, like Moonlight did a few years ago, shows different aspects of Miami and gives a more holistic vision of the city. Reefa (Tyler Dean Flores) takes us on a skateboarding journey through South Beach, Wynwood, Key Biscayne, Overtown, and the local skate parks. Reefa has a stable home life, with loving parents, a caring sister, and a tight-knit group of friends that always have his back. Things are looking up for Reefa.

Reefa must only graffiti on legal walls…”

Reefa’s family is told they are about to receive their Green Cards. His teacher introduces him to an established graffiti crew that will further his skills. There are, however, tensions rumbling at the periphery. Reefa must only graffiti on legal walls, but Miami police are always hovering in the background. An arrest risks his and his family’s immigration status. This tension is exemplified in Reefa’s relationship with his father, Israel Sr. (José Zúñiga), who sports a scowl throughout the entire film. He is somewhat supportive of Reefa’s art but is understandably afraid that an arrest will bring about deportation.

Art Basel, a big art show, is coming to town. Reefa knows this is his big chance. He decides to take a risk and graffiti an abandoned South Beach hotel. Why? For a graffiti artist, buildings are your portfolio. The tension between art and the precariousness of immigrant life is the driving force of the narrative.

Reefa (2021)

Directed and Written: Jessica Kavana Dornbusch

Starring: Tyler Dean Flores, Clara McGregor, José Zúñiga, Margarita Rosa de Francisco, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

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"…an example of the real-world ripple effect caused by police brutality."

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