For 34 years, Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival has brought international cinema to the Magic City, but this year, a homegrown talent will step into the spotlight.
Blake Jenner, a Miami-born-and-raised actor best known for his role on Fox’s Glee, will compete for this year’s Jordan Ressler Screenwriting Award when the festival presents the world premiere of Billy Boy.
The film, in which Jenner stars in the title role, tells the story of a young man living a difficult life on the wrong side of the tracks in Los Angeles. Caught in a nihilistic cycle of violence, hard partying, and petty crime with his friends, Billy struggles to look within himself to find a way out.
Jenner compares his own adolescent experiences to that of his character's.
“He has a much rougher road than I had in a few ways,” the 24-year-old says. “I feel like Billy and I were dealing from the same deck when I wrote this — different frustrations and realities, but we were both very much emotionally connected as I went on.”
For Jenner, a great deal of frustration came through during the scriptwriting process.
“I really cared about this as I was writing it years ago. Some days it would pour out in my apartment; others I'd be so frustrated that I couldn't write a word. But I learned never to take it out on the script, to
always let it breathe unless you felt you had something to really say, even just for yourself.”
Jenner found the ability to express himself while growing up in Miami through the drama club at Felix Varela High School and local theater performances at the Roxy Performing Arts Center. He also joined an
improv group before graduating early, decamping to Hollywood, and finding success with Glee.
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“I had amazing teachers in junior high and high school who fueled their students with the desire to throw themselves out there and experiment,” he says. “Having those people to look to for guidance really helped not just with acting but on a personal level as well.”
Jenner’s 2016 was busy: He earned a part in Boyhood director Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused followup Everybody Wants Some!! and starred opposite Hailee Steinfeld in the high-school drama The Edge of Seventeen. Billy Boy will see him act alongside The Wire alum Andre Royo as well as Jenner's
wife, Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist, who filed for divorce from him a few days before the new year.
Besides Jenner’s film, the competition for the Jordan Ressler Screenwriting Award, which is given to the best first-produced screenplay at the festival, will see entrants from across the globe. Festival organizers have included films from Spain, China, Venezuela, and Ireland, all vying for a prize of $10,000. Previous winners have gone on to earn Oscar nominations and awards at larger international festivals. Tickets will go on sale to the public February 10.