It's easy to say Miami is a weird city. Its reputation for freakishness is so well known, it seems to have been co-opted by cities like New York and Los Angeles. A shark on public transit? Miami had it first (and bigger). It doesn't matter what L.A. says, Miami is the true capital of Latin America. The creativity that comes out of this city is raw, interesting, and wildly creative — and
That last detail is not lost on Dana Keith, the director of the Miami Beach Cinematheque, who has dedicated the latest in his Knight Foundation-sponsored film talk series to three of Miami's most intriguing filmmakers with very distinctive voices. "I have been following these three women as filmmakers for several years now," says Keith, "and they represent the most interesting and creative art coming from Miami as opposed to the safe and conventional. They all take risks in their own way, something I admire very much, [and they are] keeping the art of cinema alive in inventive ways with three very individual points of view."
Carla Forte is a dancer and documentary filmmaker with a poetic activist bent for both human and animal rights. Jillian Mayer is an artist/actress/filmmaker with a humorous, and sometimes poignant, take on the relationship between identity and technology. Finally, Monica Peña is a filmmaker with an interest in the blurry border between naturalism and surrealism.
Based on their creative vision and how they have called global attention to Miami via their visual arts, they all truly stand as individuals representing the creative concentration of our city. The most recognizable of this trio is Mayer. Her films are often collaborations with Lucas Leyva, a local filmmaker who co-founded the Borscht Film Festival. It was at the 2012 installment where #Postmodem blew people's minds with its existential rumination on our relationship with Internet identity. Her work has appeared all over the world, from the Sundance Film Festival to New York's MoMA to the Glasgow Short Film Festival.
Her 2011 video, I Am Your Grandma, currently has over three million hits on YouTube and has even inspired imitators. Mayer loves it when images of the film are adapted by someone on the Internet who maybe has no idea of the original source of the striking and sometimes bizarre images. "I enjoy the work being re-appropriated and decontextualized by others who have not seen my original video," she says. "I often run into imagery from that video as memes about various topics."
Speaking of bizarre, if the trailer for her latest film, Hearts of Palm, is any indication, Peña has tapped deeper into the creepier side of her film-making. "There is a delicate touch of horror," admits Peña about her new movie. "The film is about rotting love, with mystical undercurrents, so the horror is more aesthetic or atmospheric than based in genre, and more supernatural than horror. We shot in Little Haiti during Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, also Passover and a Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse. The spirits were with us, for sure."
Peña's previous film, Ectotherms, had its premiere at the 2014 installment of Miami Dade College's Miami International Film Festival. It received a flattering review in Variety where film critic Guy Lodge called it "... a portrait of everyday suburban alienation, lent flavorful distinction by the city's unique cross-section of cultures and classes."
The following year, the Miami Film Festival premiered Forte's powerful documentary highlighting the sadness and horror of animal shelters, The Holders. "I have learned about the importance of respecting animal life," says Forte. "We are not educated to respect them. Animals go to shelters for some different reasons and the staff try to do their 'best,' but the harsh reality is that a high percentage of dogs and cats are killed everyday in the United States and around the world because they just cannot find a home within the short period of time... We have to stop killing our animals."
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Commenting on the fact that all three filmmakers in this panel are women, Peña admits that her gender has an influence on her work, but she still feels ambivalent about categorization. "I'm a woman," she says, "a Latina woman, actually, and my films are from that point-of-view. As my career grows, the need for feminism becomes more personal. Creating spaces for women is a gesture that starts to redress the hurdles we must bust through, not just to make movies, but to live on equal terms."
Mayer unpacks it in her own practical way. "I identify as a female, so I am called a female filmmaker. Sometimes I am called a millennial... Sometimes a white girl, sometimes a Cuban. I mainly call myself an artist, but I used to even be shy about that because I didn't know if what I made was considered as art by others... I am happy to be included in this program and happy to be fortunate enough to spend my time making creative projects. It's important to promote female work because it is a male-dominated medium, just like almost any other market. Hopefully in my lifetime, gender won't matter as much because it will just be equal."
Speaking in Cinema
With Carla Forte, Jillian Mayer, and Monica Peña, moderated by Scott Macaulay, editor of Filmmaker Magazine. Thursday, October 22, at 7 p.m. at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $11; 305-673-4567; mbcinema.com.