Art

Sweet Dillard Brings Sugar to the Miami International Film Festival


If you missed the opening of Sweet Dillard at the Miami International Film Festival on Sunday, you made a big mistake.

The documentary, by a cadre of Sun Sentinelers, tells the story of the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Ensemble. This is no small-time group. Started in 1937, it was led in the late 1940s by perhaps the biggest ever name in Florida jazz, Cannonball Adderly.  Before the filmmakers — Jim Virga and Mike and Susan Stocker — began filming in 2014, the ensemble had twice won the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival in New York City. It also topped the Swing Central High School Jazz Workshop & Competition in Savannah on two occasions. 

But the story is much more than awards. It profiles the band's amazing leader, Christopher Dorsey. Even more important, it describes the kids and what the music has done for them. This band, at Fort Lauderdale's most important historically black high school, has in many ways changed the paradigm in both the neighborhood and the county. 

It is an amazing inspiration.


Mike and Sue Stocker, Sun Sentinel photographers, who shot much the film, have a big investment in this. Their son Ben, a sax player, was in the band when they were shooting. (He has since graduated.) Virga, a former Sun Sentinel photographer who was the director, teaches at the University of Miami.  

The film moves on next to the San Luis Obispo film festival. It is unclear when it will show next locally, but filmmakers promise to keep us informed. 


If you were moved by this scene in Mr. Holland's Opus, one of my favorite movies ever, you will want to find a way to watch Sweet Dillard. It is the real thing.  


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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse