As soon as I arrive at their studio downtown, FilmGate executive director Diliana Alexander offers me water, coffee or beer.
“Not on the job,” I should have said but broke the rules anyway and gave my inner Homer Simpson a glass of locally brewed beer.
If not for the organization’s talent, the beer should attract anyone with good taste to move into FilmGate’s beautiful new studio. With colorful walls and graphic designs covering the space, one could hardly believe the startup is only six years old.
It all started with Alexander and Jose Jacho, two filmmakers who wanted to create a space the film industry Miami needed. FilmGate is a non-profit organization that supports independent film in Florida through screening, workshop, panels and festivals.
As of right now, the startup is focusing on their monthly screening festival for local filmmakers, “I am Not Going to Move to L.A” or NOLA, which is about to debut at its new venue, the Silverspot Cinema, on Aug. 28. The event consists of eight short films of no longer than twenty minutes, all directed and produced by filmmakers living in Florida.
The event’s title is a subtle wink from all the local filmmakers who don’t want to move in the Californian Big Apple to make their work known. “We’re Florida filmmakers, we are punky, we believe in the indie spirit, we don’t have to move to L.A. to be successful,” says Alexander. “This state and this region need a voice that needs to be heard in the world. There are so many regions that have unique stories that need to be told.”
With more than a thousand submissions received this year, FilmGate’s mission has been gaining a lot of attention. The startup received submissions from other states and even other countries, but one of their requirements to be eligible for NOLA’s festival, is to live in Florida. “It’s really cool because we’ve been getting films from Jacksonville, Sarasota or Key West, so our filmmakers have to drive or fly themselves here to be part of our festival,” says Alexander.
Because they’ve been selling so many tickets to NOLA thanks to their growing reputation in the community, FilmGate was often forced to turn people away due to lack of space at O Cinema Wynwood with its 100-seat capacity. The new venue at Silverspot Cinema adds 30 more seats and provides food and more space for the audience and filmmakers to meet each other afterward. Networking is central to NOLA – the festival isn’t only about comfortably watching short films.
Before the screening, the FilmGate staff invite people to sign up for the Percolator section. For half an hour, participants get two minutes to pitch their project/idea to the community for some early networking. “To be successful in this industry, you have to network. There is no question about it,” says Alexander. “You can be a genius, but if nobody knows you’re a genius…” Alexander finishes this sentence by shrugging her shoulders.
To create a real networking environment, FilmGate invites judges, talent agencies, casting directors, actors and more people from the film industry. “It’s a percolation of opportunities as well,” says Alexander.
After the percolator begins the screening, which lasts an hour and a half. Then there is a rapid Q&A with the filmmakers, where the audience has the opportunity to provide feedback, critique and also vote for their favorite film. “See that pile of little emoji right there?” Alexander asks me, referring to a cardboard box in the corner of the room full of plush emoji, which I first thought were stuffed Pikachus. “The audience throws them at the filmmakers they like the most!”
Each filmmaker can request to see a judge to have a full critique of their work. “The idea is that it gives a platform to local filmmakers to present themselves, see themselves on a very good quality big screen, with good audio, to see why their film didn’t win,” says Alexander. “It’s training wheels on how to behave at other festivals as well.”
FilmGate also offers support to these filmmakers in technical production. They will convert any film into DCP format for free, so the filmmakers can take their movies elsewhere to other festivals. “We know that what will help us as filmmakers will help the community as well,” notes Alexander.
Nothing stops FilmGate from providing the best services and workshops to its community, which isn’t only composed of experts in the film industry. A lot of them are students or just people who are following their passion or starting a second career. The startup doesn’t hesitate to invite the most competent people to train them during workshops. With two or three events per week, FilmGate has built a reliable and trusted reputation.
“I really like that I am creating a nurturing environment that, as a creator, I want to be in,” concludes Alexander, “a place where there are good vibes, where there is no negativity and drama, a percolation of ideas, and being surrounded by these great brains that are constantly buzzing with ideas. Being in this environment is wonderful, and the fact that I was the instrument to have created it, fills me with happiness.”