There is a local movement slowly brewing in Miami, one that holds a promise to create a strong film scene. The film community in South Florida has been growing, from incredible cinema art houses to more offerings throughout the year at galleries, museums and even a film program at Art Basel. Indeed, Miami is shaping up to be a welcoming space for film lovers, enriched by organizations like FilmGate Miami, which is not only a welcomed addition to the Miami film scene, but it also puts forth an innovative take on what a film festival should be.
I recently sat down with Executive Director Diliana Alexander, who along with Jose Jacho, have brought this organization to life from an idea. “We started doing the immersive film festival collaboratively,” she says. “I convinced Jose that the interactive element would be interesting for everyone. He brought a democratic element to the process.”
The organization came out of a process of doing, like Indie Film Club Miami, the previous iteration of the organization, which programmed workshops for filmmakers after seeing the need for that during local film festivals. Alexander and Jacho have an inventive and collaborative approach to most of their programs. The organization, which was only recently formalized, came out of a series of programmatic activities that started at a grassroots level and centered on a passion for storytelling and the craft of making films.
FilmGate’s interactive film festival, now heading into its third year, was one of the first programs of the organization. It attracts aspiring filmmakers not just from South Florida but from around the globe. It is “hard to describe,” according to Alexander. It exists in an experimental space where the organization has found its footing, opening the creative process to audiences and adding lots of technological advances in the process. “I looked around in Miami and saw that no one was really doing this,” says Alexander of the immersive interactive transmedia experience that is FilmGate Miami’s annual festival.
The interactive/multimedia storytelling approach, which is more widespread in Canada, where Alexander grew up, has been in use through several productions by the National Film Board of Canada. But it is one of the concepts that Alexander and Jacho wanted for Miami. An exciting aspect of the interactive narrative in multi-platform storytelling is the audience’s ability to participate in the creative process, which could be a nightmare for a curator, but not so for FilmGate. “The audience wants to be a co-creator,” says Alexander, “they want to be more interactive. You can get them to really interact and create interesting stories that live on longer than traditional films.”
Depending on the particular project, people can be part of the process via social media or other forms of participation like choose-your-own-adventure, for example. The festival is also very aware of the environment, which affects people in all walks of life. “I felt that if we were going to start a festival,” says Jacho of his experience with the festival, “it should have an eye on environmental issues and social causes. As it turns out one of the most engaging stories being told through interactive means have been documentaries.”
Before you conjure up images of strange, incomprehensible art-house films or overly serious documentaries, the list of local short films is much wider and diverse than a niche of friends. Recent showings of NOLA – short for “Not Going to Move to L.A.” — have included filmmakers from the Keys, Orlando, Northern Florida and our own Miami. Their approach is inclusive, every NOLA we at IndieEthos have attended feels like a backyard party, complete with a juried competition of films showcased (full disclosure: both of us have had a turn), an audience competition that includes fuzzy balls to throw at filmmakers (yes, fuzzy balls, that is not a typo), and a live band after the local films’ showcase.
FilmGate is like the hip, younger new kid on the film scene, experimenting with interactive storytelling and bringing StoryCode to Miami — originally the program started in New York City. The idea behind StoryCode is “to connect the tech community to the film-making community to make sure that ideas conceived by filmmakers can be done within specific technical guidelines,” explains Alexander.
With growing investments in Miami making it a sort of tropical Silicon Valley, the idea of engaging with this growing sector is a timely one. It is also the engine behind some of the creatives at FilmGate. “The most exciting and fulfilling part of FilmGate is getting storytellers to re-imagine their stories using new media,” says Jacho. All these projects have something in common. They are the core of what makes FilmGate stand out in South Florida, marrying technological advances with traditional storytelling and in doing so bringing a fresh outlook to the film scene.
One of the latest initiatives by FilmGate is the Percolator, a multidisciplinary gathering of creatives around coffee with the goal of creating and collaborating in storytelling. Alexander’s voice brightens up when she talks about what a good day at FilmGate is like. “When I know that everything is possible, and that we can completely conceive something that never existed, it makes me excited for the day,” she declares. That is the ethos of the organization, which has an approachable style but is serious about making a space to connect filmmakers. I must confess, it is the community-building aspect that I appreciate the most about FilmGate; being a resident of the Miami tropics for over 10 years and counting myself a cinephile for most of my life, I have dreamt of catching indies not only during those two glorious weeks in March when the Miami International Film Festival is in full swing but throughout the year.
For details on “Not Gonna Move to L.A.”
Interactive Tech Playground
Last year’s FilmGate Interactive Festival
Submissions are open for FilmGate Interactive 2016