Billy Corben is quite proud of the pulpy, often-sensationalized documentaries on which he's built his Miami-based company's reputation. He's even coined a name for them: "pop docs."
Rakontur, the film studio Corben runs with co-founders Alfred Spellman and David Cypkin, has produced frenetic films about Miami's cocaine-smuggling boom in the 1980s ("Cocaine Cowboys" and its sequel) and, by contrast, a documentary that uses sluggish, hazy audiovisuals to recount the history of South Florida's '70s pot trade ("Square Grouper").
"We knew we wanted to introduce a new demographic to documentaries that didn't exist before, and not make the traditional kind that ends up in the 'special interest' section of Best Buy next to the Pilates videos," says Corben, who graduated from the University of Miami not with a degree in documentary filmmaking but in political science, screenwriting and theater. "The three of us grew up with a level of cynicism and humor that we thought brought unique perspectives to our community."
To celebrate the company's 10th anniversary, Rakontur is screening a retrospective of its Florida-centric docs Monday through Friday at Miami's O Cinema. The film festival kicks off with a screening of "Raw Deal: A Question of Consent," which explores the alleged rape of an exotic dancer at a University of Florida fraternity house using found footage. Rakontur's first documentary almost became a scripted drama, says Corben, who learned of the assault while at UM with Spellman.
"That assault was captured on two video cameras, and the release of that found footage made us want to write a studio script," Corben recalls. "But then, we started noticing conflicts between the storytellers, so we decided, 'Let's make a digital video documentary.'"
On Tuesday night, Rakontur is hosting a cast reunion Q&A for "Cocaine Cowboys," a movie that, like Rakontur's other drug-oriented documentaries, has gained a cult following for its strung-out editing aesthetic and cinematography style. Scheduled to appear is convicted cocaine smuggler Mickey Munday, in addition to local journalist Al Sunshine and other interviewed subjects. Rakontur is planning to release "Cocaine Cowboys Remix," a longer version of its two-hour documentary, later this year.
On Wednesday, Rakontur is screening an extended version of "The U," an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the UM Hurricanes football program, and a screening of "Square Grouper" on Thursday, which offers a triptych of stories about Miami's pot-hauling culture. Friday ends the festival with Corben and Spellman screening footage of upcoming documentaries "Dawg Fight" and "Broke," another 30 for 30 film about the epidemic of pro athletes going bankrupt.
"People say we have a style, and it's true. It's like sitting in a gritty Miami bar with crappy whiskey and talking of nostalgic, romantic, pirate adventure stories," Corben says. "But our movies are ultimately all true stories. They're about fascinating human beings with families."
Rakontur: The First Ten Years
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Where: O Cinema, 90 NW 29th St., Miami