By Lisa Petrillo

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – “Reefa” is a touching, real-life story that follows 18-year-old Colombian immigrant and artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez during his last summer in Miami.

The street artist was tragically killed by Miami Beach police in 2013 when he painted on a soon-to-be demolished building.

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The infamous story left the local community outraged.

Miami-based writer and director Jessica Kavana Dornbusch was set to premiere the film at last year’s Miami Film Festival, but it was canceled due to COVID-19 shutdowns. It has just been released in theaters, digital platforms and streaming services.

“I wanted to focus on Israel’s life in the last couple of weeks before he passed away. He had just gotten an art scholarship. He was about to go to New York. He had found love for the first time. He was spending time painting and time with his family and friends, and then the tragic ending,” Dornbusch explained.  “Sadly, we could not plan a more timely moment in history to release this film. I think it will resonate. I think it puts a name and a face to the statistics, which, I think, is really important.”

Puerto Rican-American actor Tyler Dean Flores plays Reefa.

The young actor hopes the film stirs up many emotions in all who see it.

“I hope it raises a ton of awareness on his case and plenty of other cases that involve police brutality,” Flores said. “But I also hope that people feel very inspired by Israel’s family’s creativity and pursuit of whatever their passions are.  No matter what situations you’re in, if you want to create, create. If you want to express yourself, express yourself.”

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The film was shot on location around South Florida.

For Dornbusch, it was a labor of love. Both she and Flores said though the ending is sad, it’s truly a film about love.

“It’s been a long time. Seven years we’ve been working on this. So I’d love nothing more than people to watch this and take away a warm yet sad feeling that I get every time I hear Israel’s story,” Dornbusch said.

“I didn’t think about the ending to be honest. I tried my best to never think about it all,” said Flores. “All I really wanted to do is show as much life as possible, because that’s what the film is about. It’s about a lost life.”

Dornbusch said the film is a gift to Reefa’s family and friends, and they all felt that when it premiered in Miami last Saturday.

“His family was there, his friends were there – and it was really incredible,” said Dornbusch. “And his parents are really gratified to the response to the film, at the way that Israel is portrayed in the movie. So it’s been a lovely couple of days.”

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“Reefa” is now out in local theaters and selected digital and streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Movies on Demand and iTunes.

Lisa Petrillo