Beneath a canopy of trees on NW 29th Street between NW First and North Miami avenues in Wynwood, a boxy white building houses O Cinema. Inside the small indie theater, narrow hallways lead to intimate viewing spaces. Just past the miniature art gallery area, a large purple sea monster curiously gazes at visitors.
That mystical kraken is the recognizable logo for FilmGate Interactive.
Executive director Diliana Alexander and her team use the office within O Cinema as their headquarters. Describing it in its most basic form, Alexander says, "FilmGate originally started as a nonprofit organization to support independent filmmakers." It is a more complex beast, but at its core, its mission is to service and sustain the filmmaking community locally and beyond South Florida.
After earning a master’s degree in film, Alexander made the move from Canada to Miami in 2009. She recalls her experience working in the industry up north — "the government has a certain way of supporting talent there," and because of that, she has a sort of blueprint ingrained in her. When she moved here, she says, “I realized there was no real film community... I knew it was a necessity.”
FilmGate was born in 2012 out of the need to fill the void and bring local filmmakers together. In addition to connecting creators and maintaining a web of communication within the community, the group organizes various events throughout the year. The largest is the annual nine-day conference that takes place in February. Five weeks ago, the team wrapped its third successful gathering, which is tailored more toward the makers and shakers of film rather than viewers.
“We want people to know that you don’t need to have millions of dollars to make a really good film that can go off to festivals,” Alexander says. A gold pendant in the shape of the state of Florida shines on a chain around her neck.
“When FilmGate was first getting started, film incentives had dried up... and when there are no film incentives, nobody from out of town wants to come here to film. So Florida lost a lot of production, and as a result, there’s not a lot of movies or television shows being filmed here. Instead, filmmakers are taking Florida stories and filming them in other places, which is really, really sad.”
That's where FilmGate comes in. The organization brings together people who can help foster a creative idea and lends the tools to make them a reality — whether through discussions and workshops with seasoned professionals or simply providing a place to share raw footage. FilmGate can even help build a production team for young directors lacking resources.
“We’ve really been filling the need of the time between when students graduate from film school until they begin working full-time in the industry," Alexander says. "It’s amazing to find your calling when you find a necessity and can service it and you can make a difference.”
Ten months of the year, when Alexander is not organizing the conference or directing and producing original works, she puts together screenings for FilmGate's monthly short-film festival, I’m Not Gonna Move to L.A. (NOLA). Every first Wednesday of the month at O Cinema Wynwood, anywhere from six to ten short films are shown to an audience. The filmmakers are present and participate in a rapid-fire Q&A session. Viewers then select their favorite using pink fuzzy balls, and the director is given a Best Audience Award that comes with bragging rights.
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As with everything Alexander and the FilmGate team do, they make things fun but with an underlying mission, she says. The NOLA series provides a platform for new, undiscovered talent to showcase what they’re working on and have the opportunity to get feedback from an audience made up of both peers and film lovers.
Aside from her day-to-day duties at the nonprofit, Alexander has finally found time to dedicate to her first love: making movies. She has partnering with author Crissa-Jean Chappell, who penned the young-adult novel Narc and adapting it into a feature film. Chappell is a Miami native but lives in Brooklyn, but “the swamp is still there” when it comes to her storytelling, Alexander says with a laugh.
“Everything is completely Miami,” she says of the book. “The idiosyncratic things that you would never see anywhere else... Being in Miami, it feels great to be able to collaborate with a Miamian on a Miami story — it feels authentic.”
I’m Not Gonna Move to L.A. (NOLA)
Presented by FilmGate Miami. 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, at O Cinema Wynwood. Visit filmgate.miami.