Andrew Hevia, co-producer of the Academy Award winning film, Moonlight, stopped by University of Miami School of Communication to shed light on Miami’s artistic value and the components of an Oscar-worthy film.

The talk, titled From Medicine to Moonlight: How A Short Film and A DIY Festival Paved The Way To The Oscars, began with Hevia describing his first encounter with Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight. Intrigued by Jenkins’ project at the time, Medicine for Melancholy, Hevia orbited the film as much as possible. Since the movie’s release and success in 2008, Hevia was aware that Jenkins was creating things that others weren’t. 

So, why was this movie so spectacular? Hevia unpacked the magic of Jenkins’ work by delving into three of the filmmaker’s standout qualities: foregrounding place, making the world feel tactile, and using music to make small moments feel significant.

However, Hevia was bothered by something. Medicine for Melancholy brilliantly depicted life in San Francisco, but Jenkins, like Hevia, was from Miami.

“When we think about Miami in popular media, we think of Miami Vice, Dexter, which was shot in Los Angeles, or Ace Ventura,” Hevia pointed out. “I wondered, what would it take to get Barry back to Miami and why isn’t he making movies here?”

Rather than moving to Los Angeles with his peers, Hevia decided to stay in Miami after graduating from Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. This led Hevia to co-creating the Borscht Film Festival, a festival committed to producing and screening movies in Miami, about Miami.

“We could be creative and we could help define the city through art and community,” said Hevia. “We decided we would tell Miami stories.”

Since the Borscht Film Festival’s birth, it’s created hundreds of wildly successful films featured in international festivals, including 10 short films played at Sundance Film Festival. As it continued to thrive, the Borscht Film Festival caught the attention of Tarell Alvin McCraney, Academy Award-winning playwright. McCraney sent Hevia a copy of a play he wrote in 2006, centered in Liberty City, Florida.

“Who on earth do I give this to that will get it? Who will understand this? The answer to that question is actually the simplest answer I’ve ever had in my career,” said Hevia. “Barry.” 

Hevia then proceeded to introduce Jenkins and McCraney through email. Little did he know, this electronic exchange would lead to the making of the lowest-budgeted Oscar-winning film in movie history, Moonlight.

After sharing his journey, Hevia left University of Miami School of Communication students with a simple, valuable piece of advice.

“Just do the work,” said Hevia. “Just make movies. Start now with your friends, wherever you are.”