Jim Virga is a professor at the University of Miami in the department of Cinema and Interactive Media. He has worked as a still photographer, cinematographer, director and producer. As a filmmaker his documentaries have appeared on PBS and have been featured in film festivals, including AFI Silverdocs FF , Miami International FF, Indian Dispora FF, San Luis Obispo International FF, and Durango Independent FF. Virga has directed four documentary films; Dancing on Mother Earth, El Charango, Beyond Assignment, and most recently Sweet Dillard. Virga spent ten years (1989-1999) as a staff photographer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and his photographs from assignments covering history in such spots as Cuba, Panama, and Honduras have received national recognition.
About The Film
One of the most successful high school jazz bands in the country is right here in Broward, South Florida, just steps away from I-95. Sweet Dillard chronicles the 2014 school year of the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Ensemble, and their irrepressible band-leader, Christopher Dorsey. From the first day of class to a national competition, Sweet Dillard provides an inside look at one of the nation’s best public high school jazz bands.
Dorsey lays down the law from the first beat, calling out his students’ cliques—black and white kids automatically inhabit separate sides of the rehearsal room, something Dorsey won’t tolerate. “You don’t have to like each other, but you gonna respect each other,” Dorsey declares. As he later states, “If they can’t leave the program saying that they learned about life, about relationships… that’s the biggest thing, when you start dealing with race, to learn more about each other.”
Over the course of Sweet Dillard, we follow several individual students and their families, and learn of the often very serious pressures many of them face while still determinedly showing up at every rehearsal to take their seat in the band. At the end of the year, they travel to New York City for the national championships, determined to make South Florida proud. In our troubled America, these are youth that listen to their teacher—and come out with solutions for living that all of us learn from.
About the Filmmakers
Dia Kontaxis is a professor at the University of Miami in the department of Cinema and Interactive Media. As a filmmaker, her work has screened at museums, galleries and festivals including Venice (Art Biennale), New York (Tribeca Film Festival), Montreal (Art Fifa), Paris, Athens, Ankara, Lleida, Taipei and Miami (Art Basel). She has received public art commissions from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sweet Dillard is her second feature music documentary as co-producer and editor.
Susan Stocker grew up in Miami Beach and has been a staff photographer at the South Florida Sun Sentinel for the past 28 years. She found her passion in long-term local stories producing photo essays on a young boy with brittle bone disease, an 80-yr-old Cuban woman who trains boxers, a teenager battling obesity, a Haitian mother and her newborn adapting to life in South Florida and a retired police detective coping with early-onset Alzheimer’s. She has also covered stories in Mexico, Haiti, Israel and Poland. She has been recognized by the Pictures of the Year competition, the National Press Photographers Association, the Society of Newspaper Design and the Florida Press Club.
Mike Stocker grew up in Miami and has been a staff photographer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel since 1998. He has covered stories in Haiti, Israel, Latin America, Africa, and throughout Eastern Europe. He has been recognized by the World Press, NPPA, the Southern Short Course, the Atlanta Seminar on Photojournalism and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for outstanding coverage of the problems of the disadvantaged. In addition to still photography, Stocker shot, produced and edited a 30 minute documentary for the Sun Sentinel’s Sex Predators Unleashed series in 2013 which was accepted into the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.
Dennis Scholl is an award winning documentary filmmaker focusing on arts and culture. His interview subjects have included Robert Redford, Frank Gehry, Wynton Marsalis, Tracey Emin and Theaster Gates. He has won seven National Association of Television Arts and Science regional Emmys, with his producing partner, Marlon Johnson, all for cultural documentaries. He is the executive producer of a dozen films with the Miami based Borscht Film Collective, including six short films that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival including Yearbook, the winner of the 2014 Animated Short category at Sundance. Most recently, he helped produce the animated shorts, The Sun Like a Big Dark Animal, which premiered at Sundance, along with Glove, which also premiered at Sundance and won Best Animated Short at SXSW.