Dillard High School in Broward County is home to one of the country’s most successful high school jazz bands. Sweet Dillard is a documentary that follows the Dillard High School Jazz Ensemble through its struggles and triumphs during the 2014 academic year. The film, which is almost two years in the making, will premiere on March 6 during the Miami International Film Festival.
Two School of Communication professors assisted in the creation of the film: Jim Virga, director, and Dia Kontaxis, editor. They co-produced the film with Mike and Sue Stocker, who have a son in the prestigious jazz ensemble.
Sweet Dillard focuses on the director of the band, Christopher Dorsey, an imposing figure who strives to teach his students music with a steady beat of life lessons. Both Virga and Kontaxis noted, as educators, what a pleasure it was to see the way Dorsey taught and interacted with his students.
“He’s inspirational and I think the way he inspires his students went through the screen to me as an editor,” Kontaxis said.
Virga said that working with the students was also an amazing experience.
“They’re just such incredible musicians,” Virga said. “Just to be around the band, and watch them play, and watch them progress, it’s such a pleasure.”
Virga and Kontaxis hope the film will remind people that art is a big part of education.
“We are all big proponents of the arts in education and we felt like this was a good opportunity to showcase how valuable both are and also how far someone can go with some hard work,” Virga said.
Kontaxis wants viewers to take from the film the difficulties of being a teenager, the love and dedication of being their teacher, and how the arts can transform lives.
“It’s a film that celebrates them, but that the same time you want to show the struggles that they go through,” Kontaxis said.
According to both Virga and Kontaxis, they wanted the film to be complete in time for the Miami International Film Festival. Having met their deadline, the film’s premiere will be in South Florida to a local audience and the Dillard High School Jazz Ensemble will play a live performance.
“We would love for Dillard High School to get more support coming out of this documentary, to have people recognize how much work is there,” Kontaxis said.
Virga, a film professor, has made other documentaries which have been shown at film festivals. However, he said that he is most excited about this project because of the theme and the main character, Mr. Dorsey.
Virga added that Jeffrey Stern, another School of Communication professor who is also an Emmy-winning dialogue editor for Boardwalk Empire, helped with the post-production sound.
“We’re really supported by our department to make the project,” Virga said.
Kontaxis was able to bring this project to one of her classes. All of the students who worked on it got credit as assistant editors.
After the Miami International Film Festival, Sweet Dillard will be shown at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in California.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning,” Virga said.
Sweet Dillard premieres Sunday, March 6, at 1 p.m. in O Cinema Miami Beach, 500 71 St, Miami Beach, FL 33141.