ArtCenter/South Florida has announced its two first Cinematic Arts Residents. Xavier Medina and Monica Sorelle will each receive $50,000 to produce feature films in the City of Miami. It’s an unprecedented budget for these filmmakers to make independent movies guided by experts with successful careers in the industry.
Dennis Scholl, president and CEO of ArtCenter, has produced three documentaries focused on Miami creatives and culture. His latest, The Last Resort, was recently picked up by indie distributor Kino Lorber, and was co-directed by Kareem Tabsch, a successful short documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the franchise of local O Cinema art houses.
Tabsch helped conceptualize the grant initiative with Andrew Hevia, co-producer of the Oscar-winning Miami-set film Moonlight by director Barry Jenkins. Both Tabsch and Hevia will guide Sorelle and Medina through the production process. ArtCenter’s Cinematic Arts Manager Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, another notable short film producer and writer who co-founded the Third Horizon Film Festival, runs the program.
Scholl explains that, as the Cinematic Arts Program Manager, Jeffers' "job is all things film at the ArtCenter. For example, we have an editing class for people who want to learn [the film editing software] Premiere, and this microbudget feature narrative film project, Jason has been managing that. It was his job to get us a great jury."
The jury included Hevia; Jaie Laplante, executive director of Miami Dade College's Miami Film Festival; Miami filmmaker Edson Jean, writer and director of Grown, a web-based series on Complex; Celia Rowlson-Hall, who won the breakthrough award at AFI Fest 2015 for directing Ma; and Chanelle Aponte Pearson, producer of Terence Nance's groundbreaking film essay An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.
The people leading this project know what they are doing, and it appears the chosen filmmakers will be granted the creative control and input by fellow filmmakers who have never compromised their own visions. In a statement, the ArtCenter noted, “A national jury of film experts chose Medina and Sorelle from among 142 applicants because of their extensive experience making short films, their authorship of projects that center on Miami stories, and because their proposed projects embrace the ethos of microbudget filmmaking: the idea that creative stories can be brought to the screen with a lean and inventive approach to production.”
“I feel like I’ve been preparing for this forever, and finally I get to put all that to use,” says Medina, a Puerto Rican native who moved to Miami three years ago and has directed multiple award-winning short films and commercials over a 14-year career. “I get to express myself," he continues. "I get to tell a story and collaborate with all sorts of wonderful people, and I get to do all that while actually paying all those people for their beautiful talents,” he adds with a laugh.
“I’m incredibly honored and delighted to be given the opportunity to share my vision with a city that has given me endless inspiration and support,” says Sorelle, a Haitian-American filmmaker born and based in Miami. She has produced and worked on projects for Film Independent, Borscht Corp., A24, HBO, and PBS. “This residency will be a really challenging opportunity I’m excited to take on.”
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As for what their films will be about, Sorelle explains applicants had to submit a logline along with a synopsis of the film they envision to make. She says her film “will follow a construction worker facing the realities of redevelopment as he is tasked with demolishing his gentrifying neighborhood.”
Medina is a bit more coy, however. “I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but it’s about a boy with a mission … a boy on a quest to somehow get to the beach and see the ocean for the first time.”
In ArtCenter’s statement, Scholl says, “Audiences are hungry for the kinds of stories Xavier and Monica want to tell, authentic narratives that explore the real Miami. We’re excited to help support their careers, and to offer diverse programming that helps strengthen Miami’s indie film community.”
Three other applicants received a special jury mention: Valerie Brooks, Jonathan David Kane and Terence Price II. "Each will receive $1,000 to continue to develop their projects and pursue their ideas in filmmaking," noted the release.