The Strongest Man'sRoad to Sundance

It’s one thing to say, “I’m not gonna move To L.A” as a filmmaker in Miami and another to write and complete a feature film outside of the system. For the third year in a row, the Florida house denied film incentives. Again, across the state we heard a collective sigh as film crews packed their belongings and headed to Atlanta.

It’s tough being a filmmaker in Miami, but be it due to the democratization of technology or the resilience of the South Florida filmmaker, last year we saw some fantastic Miami films – Mark Moormann‘s The Record Man, Billy Corben‘s Dawg Fight, Carla Forte‘s The Holders and of course the man of the hour, director Kenny Riches‘ second feature film, The Strongest Man.


The Srongest Man is a Miami-centric comedy about an anxiety-ridden Cuban man, who fancies himself the strongest man in the world. In a quest to recover his most beloved possession, a stolen bicycle, he finds and loses so much more. Kenny’s film was shot for a nano budget and as every hopeful filmmaker, he submitted it to festivals, then he waited. A few months and many phone calls later, The Strongest Man was screening at the Sundance Film Festival, then the Miami International Film Festival, Kenny had landed an agent and a distribution deal.

I asked Kenny ten questions about how he was able to capture Miami’s spirit animal so well in The Strongest Man – can you guess what it is?

1. When did you move to Miami and what was your first impression?

I moved here three years ago, but had been visiting for quite some time. Escaping the Utah winters. My first impression was that Miami was the most fun place — crazy, interesting, beautiful, diverse, lawless and overall kind of bananas.

2.  How did you get the inspiration for The Strongest Man?

The film is a mashup of lots of different Miami experiences and observations. Mainly getting to know Meatball and my other artist friends here helped to shape much of the film. Maybe a dash of my anxieties and insecurities too.

3. Is The Strongest Man a metaphor for Miami? 

No, I think it’s just a story that involves Miami and some of its many different characters. A portrait of a slice of Miami maybe.

4. What is the difference of shooting in South Florida as opposed to Utah?

The light in Miami is long and atmospheric. Utah has mountains that change the way the sun sets.

Kenny photo

5. You had a blended crew and cast – what was it like?

It was fun to introduce the out of towners to Miami, just as Meatball had done for me. Almost all of the cast and crew were friends that I’d either grown up with, befriended in Miami, or worked with before, so I was able to write specifically for them and there was an understanding of what I was going for. Everyone got along really well.

6. What was your biggest challenge?

Airplane noise was pretty challenging. We had to stop and wait for planes to pass overhead every few minutes. Sound mixer’s nightmare. Besides that, we did get ocean water in our camera, but that’s a longer story!

7. What is your favorite behind the scenes moment?

At the end of a super long day, everyone was exhausted and grumpy, and we decided to shoot an extra little scene of Conan regurgitating the Guru’s affirmations to a girl at a party. An awkward pick up line basically. It was a hilarious moment that is weird to watch on screen, but had everyone in stitches on set. Paul is a funny little guy.

8. Why did you feel magic realism was necessary as a technique?

I guess I was just writing what felt right. I’ve worked demolition jobs with Meatball where he was basically running through walls and I was following him with a dustpan. Or that’s how I perceived it. I guess with cinema you have the option to take certain liberties, so creating a world that is more like the Miami in Beef’s head rather than real life is the direction I took.

9. Did you always know Patrick Fugit will be a German GURU?

I wrote the Guru for Patrick based on a German character he was doing when visiting me in Berlin. We went miniature golfing in a park and I think that’s when it began.

10. What’s your next adventure?

The next adventure is a new film! I have another Florida film and a Utah film in the works. 

Catch The Strongest Man at O Cinema Miami Shores Friday, June 26th through Thursday, July 2nd [Tickets]

Join Kenny Riches on The Road to Sundance on Saturday, July 11th, where he will walk us through the process of shooting a feature film in Miami, his acceptance into the Sundance Film Festival and landing a distribution deal. [Tickets]