Back in the '60s Miami was known as "God's Waiting Room" on account of its large population of retirees, but when the cocaine trade moved in everything changed. Told by the people who put the vice in Miami Vice, this stylized, high-energy film track the city's evolution. On a sleepy summer day in 1979, two men driving a party supplies truck got out at the Crown Liquors store in Miami's Dadeland Mall and sprayed the place with bullets. The papers dubbed the gun-wielding Colombians the "cocaine cowboys," and the title stuck. Within a few years, the once washed-up vacation destination had become the most dangerous city in America. Filmmaker Billy Corben chronicles the cocaine escapades of the '70s and '80s through interviews with key players including transplanted New Yorker Jon Roberts, who distributed over $2 billion worth of cocaine for Mickey Munday, an ingenious smuggler in the Medellín Cartel who's reputed to have transported over 10 tons of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. in his lifetime. In addition to interviewing notorious criminals like Roberts and Jorge "Rivi" Alaya, a hit man for Griselda Blanco (a.k.a. the "Cocaine Godmother"), Corben consults the other side of the law. The film is loaded with archival news footage as well as conversations with DEA agents and crime writers. Also featured is a score by Jan Hammer, composer of the Miami Vice score. Almost as addictive as the drug itself, Cocaine Cowboys is a fast-paced and shocking documentary that would be hard to believe if it wasn't true. Perhaps more surprising than the murders and corruption is the realization that one of today's most vibrant cities was built with blood money.
A South Florida native, Billy Corben has acted in Parenthood, Stepmonster, and in the television shows L.A. Law, Night Court, and Dear John. Corben and his producing partner Alfred Spellman formed their first production company while still in high school. Together, they created several award-winning shorts. The duo's first feature documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, was selected for the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Soon after, Corben and Spellman, along with longtime collaborator David Cypkin, launched their Miami-based production company, rakontur. Cocaine Cowboys is the banner's first feature. rakontur is currently in production on a documentary series entitled Clubland, which chronicles the cutthroat world of the South Beach nightclub business.