Previously Published By Hans Morgenstern & Ana Morgenstern, Independent Ethos
Earlier this month, Miami Beach Cinematheque with the support of the Knight Foundation, launched the seventh installment of the filmmaker discussion series, “Speaking In Cinema“. The series engage audiences in the appreciation and analysis of cinema as language and art, rather than escapist entertainment. In the past, the bi-monthly event has featured a local film critic, an out-of-town film critic, and a guest filmmaker (Hans was the guest critic for the first Speaking in Cinema). This year, they highlighted the works of three different Miami-based filmmakers at each installment, led by a visiting film expert, Filmmaker Magazine Editor in Chief Scott Macaulay.
Today we will introduce you to three of the filmmakers chosen.
Meet Carla Forte. Not too long ago, this writer reviewed the Hungarian film “White God“. The most impressive thing about the movie was how the filmmakers wrangled 200 dogs and sent them marauding through the streets of Budapest.There was another film shown a few months earlier at the Miami International Film Festival that had a similar scene, Forte’s documentary “The Holders”. In it she explores the fate of many animals left at animal shelters (it’s often not pretty). Forte makes no apologies for the film’s bias toward animal rights.
Writing via email, she says:
“We need people in shelters who believe in not killing and who can confront the problem with compassion and respect.”
At the end of her film, she presents the viewers with a solution that volunteers in Costa Rica have devised: a free range, no-kill shelter. It’s like a Shangri-La for dogs, where hundreds of abandoned dogs run free, receive health care and die natural deaths. The images of something like 700 dogs running down hills and jumping through creeks are stunning.
“My friend Carla Lopez, a vegan activist, told me about this amazing place called Territorio de Zaguates,” explains Forte, “which shelters more than 700 hundreds of stray dogs in Costa Rica. [Producer] Alexey Taran and I decided to travel to that place and expose this amazing reality happening in the mountains in a Latin American country.”
The place is so impressive, Forte has found a way to incorporate in her upcoming feature film, Ann. “It’s a feature film that narrates the story of Ruben, a man who has decided to abandon his tormented life by taking refuge within his own imagination,” she explains about the still-in-progress movie.
“His transgender wife Ann, in the face of a deteriorating relationship, attempts to understand Ruben’s idealized world.”
Forte says the film is still in its early stages.
“We are launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money,” she says. “We’ll be shooting the Feature Film in early 2016 in Miami and Costa Rica.”
Meanwhile, besides “The Holders”, Miami Beach Cinematheque will also show an early short by Forte called “Interrupta,” as seen at several Latin American festivals as well as in Milan and Berlin. In it you will see her dancing in the shower. Besides being a director, she is also a quite talented modern dancer and choreographer. Dance often figures into her film work. As a choreographer, Forte puts a lot of thought in what dance means in a narrative, cinematic context.
“Interrupta’ is about impermanence, emotional attachments, family. The characters in the art video are my dad, my mom, and my brother. We live in the world where every day people and things are influencing us and interrupting us. I am writing these lines while I am hearing my dogs barking and my neighbor cutting the grass. We have an everyday routine, but suddenly something happens that we did not expect, good or bad, important or not, but it happened.”
There’s another abstract idea in the film, she adds:
“I think people know some day we will die, but I think people do not realize that it can happen at any moment.”
Meet Jillian Mayer. She stumbled into film-making after graduating from Florida International University with a concentration in installation art and fiber in 2007. Her multi-media art has since gone on to garner her attention across the world, everywhere from art galleries to film festivals. Movie making has now become an indelible part of her repertoire. Asked for her inspiration in film, she chooses to go to the medium itself instead of a specific director.
“Filmmaking offers me many things,” Mayer writes via email. “I love that the product is also the documentation. Artists are challenged with art making and then archiving the work, but video/film making joins those two concerns. I also like how media travels over the Internet. Also, it is a great format for me to combine so many mediums I enjoy in my art making such as performance, music, sculpture and installation.”
In 2012, she and her frequent collaborative partner, co-director Lucas Leyva were featured in Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” The editor in chief of Filmmaker Magazine, Scott Macaulay, will be in Miami to host the conversation at the Miami Beach Cinematheque with Mayer, Carla Forte (Miami Filmmaker Carla Forte on shooting hundreds of dogs in action and her impromptu poem on inspiration) and Monica Peña (Storytelling through collaboration – Director Monica Peña discusses filmmaking and upcoming Speaking in Cinema panel). “In 2012, Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva were two of the most inventive film artists around, and that hasn’t changed in 2015,” Macaulay says via email.
“In fact, I’ve only seen their impact grow as more people become aware of the very original and Miami-centric work they are doing at Borscht. I’ve recently had the chance to see the beginnings of some of their newest work, and I’m every more excited about the waves they are going to create.”
The year Leyva and Mayer made Filmmaker Magazine’s list, the duo released a striking short film called “#Postmodem,” which had its world premiere at the 2012 Borscht Film Festival before going on to Sundance and the New York Film Festival. It’s a rather ingenious work that taps into existentialist concerns in the age of the Internet. In an interview I wrote for Miami New Times last year, both shared their interest in the work of the futurist philosopherRay Kurzweil. Their concerns for memory, persona and legacy were given vivid life with their funny, brilliant and sometimes poignant short featuring an incredibly catchy musical number recalling ’80s freestyle music Mayer co-wrote with Michael John Hancock (of Viigo). You can watch the short in its entirety below. From little kids talking about their inevitable demise to a swing set in the clouds, this short will blow your mind.
As for now, Mayer is prepping for several exhibitions in 2016 that include LAX ART in Los Angeles, David Castillo Gallery here in Miami Beach, and Art Space in Raleigh North Carolina. So keep an eye on those spaces. As for recent shoots, Mayer reveals that what was once her initial pitch to Borscht, “a faux talk show for people and their pets” is coming to fruition. “Lucas Leyva and I just shot a pilot show about a fun fake animal talk show with support from an incubator we are in with Time Warner called 150,” she says.
Finally, Leyva and Mayer are also in the middle of production on their first feature film, a movie inspired by Japanese Kaiju that somehow explores the filmmakers’ Cuban-American identities. They are working with some members of the visual effects crew behind Beasts of the Southern Wild. “About four weeks ago, we shot the prologue to the film at Miami Theatre Center,” she reveals, “which starred two Japanese Bonraku theater puppets. Next part of the production will take place in various towns of Cuba, and the final segment will take place in Miami.”
Monica Peña will be featured on Oct. 22’s “Speaking in Cinema” presented and produced by theMiami Beach Cinematheque. Filmmaker Magazine Editor in Chief Scott Macaulay will be moderating the conversation, where each filmmaker will show highlights of their work.
I recently had a chance to talk to Peña about her filmmaking philosophy and her sources of inspiration in storytelling. We sat outdoors at the Vagabond Hotel, a fitting place since it is old and new Miami at once, evoking some the themes in Peña’s filmmaking, or as she puts it
“Miami is an endlessly interesting place.”
Peña’s opera prima, Ectotherms is a personal favorite, an artistic work with a definite point of view that offers complex storytelling about place, growing up and coming of age. The critical look at life in the tropics is coupled with a documentary filmmaking style and a use of stark music that enhances on-screen action, but what makes this film so great is Peña’s authenticity and uncompromising standpoint. The film was a personal favorite at last year’sMiami International Film Festival because it said so much with seemingly very little, and the multi-layered storytelling allowed spectators plenty of room to understand the work in personal ways.
Peña’s upcoming work is titled Hearts of Palm and promises to continue in the vein of Ectotherms with a narrative style that defies traditional storytelling. “It’s hard to describe or summarize in words,” she tells me of her upcoming film.
“The seed of the film was an exploration of feminine and masculine parts of myself.”
Although the film is loosely about a relationship, the sources of inspiration included literature, music, works of art, the Miami landscape and the disjointed nature of the self. Indeed, the film form is lose and demands of the audience to bring their own awareness to the story, unlike traditional storytelling where the film feeds the audience a clear line of thinking. That tradition could not be further from Peña’s approach.
“The story is mostly told through vignettes that convey moments,” she continues. “A lot of it is told through music. There is very little dialogue and images are very surreal.” The work will lend itself to a unique conversation about film-making. From what I have had the chance to see in Peña’s work and hear about her process, the boundaries of film seem to disappear, and something that you haven’t seen before is created – an experiential sort of imagery.
Collaboration is key to Peña’s directorial style. Her creative process for Hearts of Palm included creating a core document that included the vision for the film, which she describes as “a story about a relationship that is decomposing, that took place in this house that is decomposing with supernatural undercurrents throughout.”Once the vision was shared and agreed upon by the filmmaking team, the story itself took shape and went in different directions in an organic way with input from the rest of the team.
For Hearts of Palm, Peña has again joined forces with sound producer Joel C. Hernandez, who also collaborated on Ectotherms and provided sounds that are part of the narrative. During the collaborative process, production designer Lucila Garcia de Onrubia came up with the visuals and the feel of the vision for Hearts of Palm, bringing the tropical landscape indoors in a conceptual way. She credits cinematographer Jorge Rubiera and actor/original score composer Brad Lovett as contributors, for not only understanding her documentary-style of film-making but also helping bring her vision to life.
As this snippet of a long conversation shows, filmmaker Peña is excited to talk about her approach and share her personal philosophy on surreal filmmaking.
“If you set your idea in motion, a movie starts to show you what it wants to be, it’s a matter of tuning in from that point on.”
Indeed, Ectotherms feels organic, a journey that takes you out to another world and within into yourself — if you let it. Peña’s artistic visualizations on film have a marker that is hard to pinpoint. She tells me she is excited about discussing her own work alongside such a diverse slate of Miami’s filmmakers. The event goes to show that Miami’s film community encompasses a myriad voices. Although the event focuses on women filmmakers, it should be noted that the relevancy of their work stands on its own. However, having a platform to showcase it remains critical.
“I feel like it’s important to create a place for women to speak carving out spaces for women is important,” says Peña of the upcoming Speaking in Cinema.