Hearts of Palm - Director Photo 2Miami’s film scene is not only booming with talented filmmakers, but it is also among the more diverse platforms for filmmakers due to an abundance of audiences. In the upcoming iteration of its Knight Foundation sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema,” Miami cinephiles will be getting a chance to hear up-close and in-depth conversations with three Miami-based independent filmmakers who have each crafted an important niche in different genres. Miami filmmakers Carla Forte (Miami Filmmaker Carla Forte on shooting hundreds of dogs in action and her impromptu poem on inspiration), Jillian Mayer (Jillian Mayer on inspiration from the medium of film and upcoming projects, from a talk show about pets to Kaiju), and Monica Peña will be featured in Oct. 22’s “Speaking in Cinema” presented and produced by the Miami 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’s Miami 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.” Hearts of Palm - Director Photo 1Once 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.

In addition to Peña’s voice, we will have the pleasure to hear from Carla Forte, who brings a unique perspective to her filmmaking with a style that consciously raises social awareness and leaves audiences to question big issues such as homelessness, identity in a foreign land and even animal rights. Her approach is also informed by her training as a dancer, resulting in a multidisciplinary approach that brings out interesting avenues in her work that cannot be neatly encapsulated. Finally, Jillian Mayer, of Borscht fame, plays with the alternative realities that we create for ourselves and others on the web. Her projects are playful and DIY at first glance but charged with awareness of the pitfalls and disinformation in the digital world. For Mayer, the construction of culture in the Internet is another form of discourse that may be changing the way identity is constructed and understood.

Ana Morgenstern

The Miami Beach Cineamtheque begins showing the films by these local filmmakers starting this Friday, Oct. 16. For a detailed schedule, follow this link. It culminates in a discussion with the filmmakers, also including directors Carla Forte (read her profile here), Jillian Mayer (read her profile here) and Filmmaker Magazine Editor in Chief Scott Macaulay. This profile series continues tomorrow with a piece on Peña.

You can also read more about these filmmakers and their retrospective in an article in the Miami New Times by jumping over to the alternative weekly’s art and culture blog through the image below:

NT Arts

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Jillian Mayer Art Basel Miami Beach 2014This month, The Miami Beach Cinematheque will hold its seventh installment of its Knight Foundation sponsored discussion series called Speaking In Cinema. Usually, the bi-monthly event features a local film critic, an out-of-town film critic and a guest filmmaker (this writer was one of the first guest critics). This time they are bringing together three Miami-based filmmakers for a very special installment of the series, and this is the first in what will be a series of interviews with the three filmmakers, who are all showing films in a retrospective series leading up to their talk. 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 philosopher Ray 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 theatre puppets. Next part of the production will take place in various towns of Cuba, and the final segment will take place in Miami.”

Hans Morgenstern

The Miami Beach Cineamtheque begins showing the films by these local filmmakers starting this Friday, Oct. 16. For a detailed schedule, follow this link. It culminates in a discussion with the filmmakers, also including directors Carla Forte (read her profile here) and Monica Peña (read her profile here), and Filmmaker Magazine Editor in Chief Scott Macaulay. This profile series continues tomorrow with a piece on Peña.

You can also read more about these filmmakers and their retrospective in an article in the Miami New Times by jumping over to the alternative weekly’s art and culture blog through the image below:

NT Arts

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)