Students make ‘Paradise’ into a film festival contender

Bronza Fox, who attends Key West High School, stars in ‘Paradise,’ a new film made by a group of students.
Bronza Fox, who attends Key West High School, stars in ‘Paradise,’ a new film made by a group of students.

T.J. Nitti, a recent Key West High School graduate who is counting the days until he starts film school at New York University, doesn’t want to give away the point of his new film “Paradise” in an interview.

Instead, he’d like you to come view the film for free at the Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St., in Key West at 11 a.m. Sunday, when the Key West student-produced movie will have its premiere.

At just under 20 minutes, “Paradise” chronicles a Keys fisherman, played by another recent Key West High grad, Bronza Fox, who becomes a castaway on an island — and turns out to kind of appreciate his new home.

“He starts to like the simplistic way of life,” said Nitti, 18, who with Fox and Krzsyztof Madro, directed and produced the film on location in the Keys. “In a way, it’s kind of ironic he’d be stranded on an island yet the title is ‘Paradise.’ ”

Come October, the film will be screened at the American High School Film Festival in Times Square and is eligible for awards.

“There are parts that are rather comedic,” said Nitti, who counts directors Peter Weir and Michael Burke among his influences. “There’s also some cursing so I wouldn’t recommend young kids come.”

The students enlisted their parents and other friends to help pull off an ambitious project: Film on an island 12 miles offshore. Boats, planes and drones were coordinated.

Fellow classmates Jett Valle, Christian Brannan and Cole McCandless rounded out the crew. Isaiah Arnold and McCandless came up with the story idea and the screenplay was written by Anna Mott and Divya Navani.

“We had a plane in one of our shots,” Nitti said. “Luckily, Jett’s father is actually a pilot so he was able to do that easily.”

They had other challenges from the elements.

“The hardest shot was having to scale a 30-foot coconut palm tree for 16 takes,” Fox said. “My arms were bloody and raw for a few days after that.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen