Fresh from its area premiere at the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, a popular documentary of the history of Miami Beach, its transition from a retirees’ community to a hip, young multicultural club scene, and the two local photographers who chronicled its heyday, The Last Resort, arrives in theaters this Friday.
Co-directors Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch both grew up in Miami, were longtime friends and filmmakers, but had never worked on a project together. As Scholl recalls, “We’d been saying, ‘We’ve got to make something together.’ I asked him what he wanted to make, he told me and I said, ‘That’s what I want to make.’ It was this film.”
“Yeah, it couldn’t be better if we had scripted it,” says Tabsch. “It really was kismet. It was over dinner that we realized we both had landed on the same thing, Clearly, that meant that we should do it and we should do it together.”
The Last Resort tells of the rise, decline and rise again of Miami Beach through the photos of Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe, two enthusiastic self-taught artists who befriended the porch-sitting denizens of what would later be known as South Beach, seniors who could easily be their grandparents.
Like many a documentary, the film they eventually made was not the one they set out to make. “Our first challenge was that we felt we had a short film about these two artists,” explains Scholl. “A little bit more micro story that we were going to do. And then what happens often is you start down one path and the process of research and discovery opens up so many other ones. We realized that while this is a film about Gary and Andy, it also had to be a film about the community that they were photographing. And through that we had to tell the story of a changing city.”
Juggling the film’s different stories and keeping them all in balance proved challenging. “Because each one of them has so many layers of complexity that you could really go down a rabbit hole,” sighed Scholl. “We kept having to ask ourselves, ‘Have we gone far enough or have we gone too far? Is this necessary for moving the story forward and educating the audience or is it superfluous?’
“The beauty of it is you have to know and be flexible enough to pivot. You want to go into the film thinking that you know what the story is, otherwise you’re not prepared. But you have to be receptive to what comes out,” adds Scholl. “The film tells you what it wants to be, you don’t tell it.”
From the 1970s, as South Beach real estate was getting expensive and the fixed-income retirees were being priced out of their homes, as the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood and crime were on the rise, Miami Beach changed dramatically.
“It’s funny, even to this day when you talk to people, they say, ‘Miami Beach? Isn’t that where the old people are?’” says Tabsch. “And it’s hard to tell them, ‘No, that hasn’t existed in almost 40 years.’ I’m 39, so anyone who’s even 10 years younger than me would have no recollection of old Miami Beach. Because they’re all gone. But you ask people at screenings and everyone seems to have a connection, one way or another. If it’s not grandma and grandpa, it’s their Uncle Joe.”
The Last Resort first met an audience in January 2018, at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, where it won the best documentary award. Since then, it has played at festivals all across the country, including DOC NYC, the largest documentary festival in America, and many more Jewish festivals.
In the post-screening discussions, the filmmakers kept hearing about the audiences’ connections to Miami Beach. “I’d ask who had a personal connection to the area at festivals all over the country. And I swear, half the audience raised their hands in Charlottesville, Va,” recalls Tabsch. “That’s the ubiquitous nature of the ’70s in South Beach.”
Although The Last Resort focuses in on a specific place and time, Scholl and Tabsch feel strongly that the film has universality. “Everybody kind of understands what aging is, and certainly understands the power of community,” says Scholl. “And we also understand how cities change and how the demographics of cities change. I think the film is about that as much as it is about anything else.
“And there’s really a sense of hope in the film. The idea that you’ve lived a life, you’ve worked hard and you’re able to kind of enjoy the end of your life in camaraderie with your friends and contemporaries. I think that’s something that everybody can relate to. It’s the American dream, absolutely.”
“You should go see ‘The Last Resort’ because it is a love letter to a time and place that have been nearly completely forgotten,” implores Tabsch. “It is ultimately a celebration of this wonderful community of Jewish retirees in 1970s Miami Beach. It’s a celebration of two wonderful artists who shared the story of their city through their lens. And it’s the story of a beautiful city that has always pulled people in from all over the world and continues to do so in different ways.”
THE LAST RESORT. Directors: Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch. With Edna Buchanan, Susan Gladstone and Stan Hughes. Distributor: Kino Lorber. Opening this weekend at theaters throughout South Florida.