Filmmakers Robert Colom and Monica Sorelle Talk Mountains

Sunday, April 7, at 7 pm at the Adrienne Arsht Center, the new feature film Mountains will make its Miami premiere as a part of the Miami International Film Festival.

The made in Miami movie is a portrait of a family living and working in Little Haiti. Before Mountains‘ big local premiere, writer/producer Robert Colom and writer/director Monica Sorelle hopped on to the Jitney to answer our questions.

What inspired Mountains?

Robert Colom: Something that connects Monica and I is our shared frustration with this city, which, because we love it, we really feel the need to defend and protect it – often even from itself. And a lot of those frustrations are in the actual film, the biggest and most obvious one being the gentrification of Little Haiti. We used to work in Wynwood, at a time where houses were coming down all around us, every day. This was 2018. And Mountains was really born out of this image that we saw while walking to lunch one day: Monica noticed a demolition worker leave one of those sites of a demolished house right next to us, cross the street and disappear into the still suburban, Puerto Rican part of the neighborhood.

We had been flirting with the idea of applying to a film residency that Oolite Arts had just unveiled, which gave us a small budget to make a feature film. So she said, here’s a microbudget idea: a demolition worker lives so close to his work sites that he can walk to them. We knew that Little Haiti was the next neighborhood to be targeted by developers, and so we took the opportunity to root the story in Haitian culture and expand it a bit into a story about a family, and a community.

Can you walk us through the process of coming up with the idea for the movie to actually filming it?

Monica Sorelle: We developed and wrote the script for Mountains in 2019 and had aspirations to go into production in 2020, but this funny little thing happened that shut the world down. In that time, we were able to not only rest, but think about what our goals really were for the film and how they could best be achieved. It was a microbudget film both by choice and necessity, but we wanted to make sure we were well-prepared for production, and for the film’s life beyond set.

Robert: We really took that extra time to cast the film exactly how we wanted to, and to also develop relationships with development markets like The Gotham out of New York… and a new timeline started to reveal itself, and we could start to feel the movie telling us what it really needed in order to come to life.

What was the most challenging aspect of making this movie?

Robert: Doing so many things for the first time has been a big challenge. Mountains is our first feature, so every day for almost five years on this movie I feel like something totally new comes out of left field, especially since I was the only producer on the movie for so long. But we’ve ended up having a really great support system, and a lot of people have our backs. Our EPs and our collaborators have really helped us with patience, given us guidance, and kind of shepherded us through all the stops and starts that come with making a movie like this.

What was the most fun part of making the movie?

Robert: I think experiencing the joy of all being together and feeling like we’ve all created something. Bring reunited at the premiere in Tribeca was so beautiful, almost the entire cast and crew were there. Just being together in service of this community and this piece of art we all made has been the most special thing.

Monica Sorelle: I loved building the characters with my three leads the most. We were able to find threads together, and build the film out in a way that was . Day 1 was our rara scene. Having our cast reunited, and throwing our crew into a giant street fair was the coolest way to start.

Were there any movies that influenced Mountains?

Monica Sorelle: We watched and talked a lot about Italian Neorealism films as a sort of tonal and a template for the film. Rome, Open City, for example and Bicycle Thieves in reference to our central father/son relationship. 70s films about labor like Black Girl and Nothing But a Man. Patterson came up while building Xavier and Esperance’s relationship. Little Men to show how gentrification has ripple effects outside of just the economic.

Robert: A lot of great films. We’re very influenced by Third Cinema and Caribbean Cinema, thanks in big part to our work at Third Horizon Film Festival. And then some aesthetic inspirations came from unlikely places. There’s this Vanessa Williams movie called Dance With Me, for example – it was one of my favorites as a kid – that came up as an influence for a big first communion party scene in Mountains. Things you just wouldn’t think of, that stay with you. We love all these movies.

What can we expect at the Miami Film Fest screening?

Robert: The screening at Miami Film Festival is going to be the first time the film has ever played publicly in the city, after almost a year on the festival circuit – so you can expect a lot of excitement, joy, communion… And the venue, the Adrienne Arsht Center, I mean…  it’s the biggest room in the city, I think it has space for 2,000 people. The room is going to be buzzing. It’s going to be really magical.

Now that Mountains is out in the world, what is next for you guys?

Robert: We’re working on a couple different films, still really early in the writing process. But in the immediate future, Monica’s the director of Third Horizon Film Festival this year, which is amazing – and I’m one of the programmers for the festival. So please come to Third Horizon, it’s going to be really special. And I’m working on a free outdoor screening series called Cinemóvil, which has been quietly screening films in Miami’s suburban immigrant neighborhoods. That’s definitely going to ramp up and continue over the next year. Monica’s also working on an art practice, and we’re just trying to survive in Miami – which seems like it gets harder and harder. Being in spaces with artists and filmmakers is very affirming, though. It’s a fight, but we’re glad to be here, and hopefully we can keep making work.

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David Rolland

David Rolland edits the Jitney blog. He is the author of the novels Yo-Yo & The End of the Century.