For Samuel Albis and Alessandra Gherardi, this year's Miami International Film Festival will forever hold a special place in their hearts, because making its world premiere is their first-ever film, Chub.
This collaborative effort from the husband and wife duo marks her first screenplay and his directorial debut - and it screens for the first time in their hometown.
"It was written in Miami, funded in Miami, shot in Miami, post-produced in Miami, and debuting in Miami," Gherardi said with a warm laugh.
Though Chub was filmed in just five days, Albis and Gherardi both agree the film was a journey that spanned over a decade. The titular character, referred to primarily by his unflattering nickname, Chub, is an overweight kid who manages to go through the motions of life without much happiness.
"It's a little bit like our story," said Albis looking over at Gherardi who nodded in agreement. "I wouldn't say that we were 'lost,' but we were unhappy with our lives working in jobs we did not love, but we influenced each other as a couple - and as a filmmaker and a writer - to take a stand and go for our dreams."
Before venturing into the filmmaking business, Albis and Gherardi both held jobs under the umbrella of entertainment: he was in advertising and she was in print journalism, but neither of them were feeling fulfilled. Nearly seven years after they began their new journey together, they are thrilled to share the culmination of their passion.
Told in just under 30 minutes, Chub takes the audience through various pinnacle moments in a child's life with the ultimate focus being for Chub to find himself.
"I wrote the film with the intention of being true to the characters: to Diego (Chub) and to Steph. The main message I wanted to put out there was Diego taking a stand for himself, learning how to set his boundaries, and learning how to confront his emotional turmoil instead of stuffing it down with food," Gherardi passionately explains.
Aside from her own experiences being a pre-teen and raising two children of her own, Gherardi did research, and one of the topics she researched was bullying. Despite the fact that Diego gets bullied for being husky, the act and affects of bullying are not the focus of the film.
"Our character happens to be going through a bullying situation...[but] I was very cautious of the writing of Chub," she said. "I did not want to turn this into a revenge story, or preach about the subject, because we wanted to tell a character story."
Albis chimes in, "it's a character study; it's about human relationships and how human relationships change your life."
And it's not just about Chub's journey.
"Steph influences Diego and she's the reason he finds himself, and in turn, Diego also influences Steph and she discovers that she is more than just a tough girl but also has a soft side. It's about two beautiful kids who are going through things in their lives and they need to confront those things and grow up."
The pair admit there were many scenes that did not make the final cut, and they ended the movie when they did because, simply put, they had to.
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"It was actually a long short-film," laughs Gherardi, adding, "people have actually already approached us to turn it into a feature." Both director and writer agree there's plenty of material to work with if they decided to go the long route, but for now, they want to focus on the short version and their next film project.
"One of the things we realized after doing Chub is that we would like to partner with an organization that could show the movie to more kids in schools," said Gherardi. The two have already worked with a social worker to come up with a set of questions to hand out to children who watch Chub.
With a loving look at his wife, Albis comments how his favorite aspect of the film is the two characters and their complex identities. Being a teenager is perhaps one of the toughest parts of growing up, but "if you could survive that, you can survive anything!"