This year's Miami International Film Festival includes one program so intensely native to the city that it’s titled "I've Never Not Been From Miami." Premiering Monday, March 7, at the Olympia Theater, it includes ten short films that pair top independent filmmakers with vital artists.
For many of those involved, Miami has become a haven. Says Jonathan David Kane, director of Papa Machete: "We are of a generation that has chosen to stay because there are real opportunities here for artists to not only share their stories with each other, but with the world. Miami's unique culture influences me in countless ways, and this texture finds its way into my work often, whether or not I am conscious of it."
The program's title appears in Kane's short film about dancer Rosie Herrera, a friend of many years. "There's a line where I asked Rosie [about Miami's influence], and she replied simply, 'I've never not been from Miami... so I couldn' tell you how it influences my work...' I imagine everyone involved in this project would agree."
Some who participated are transplants who have embraced Miami as their home base. There are cartoonist Brian Butler, who moved to the Magic City from Massachusetts, and the filmmaking couple Kenny Riches and Cara Despain (The Strongest Man), who settled here after moving from Utah.
"This city is awesome," Despain says. "The art scene is really energetic, and the fabric of the city itself is strange, multifaceted, hilarious, and freaky. Because of that, a lot is possible."
Adds Butler: "As a Massachusetts transplant, it's an honor to be included in a collection called 'I've Never Not Been From Miami.' It makes me feel really tied into the city."
Both are subjects in this series. Despain, a video and mixed-media artist, is the focus of Riches' intimate portrait. "Other than being weirded out by so much of me, I think it turned out really great," she confesses. "Kenny wanted to make something different than just a talking head, and he had an interesting vision for the doc."
Butler, who made a name for himself in Miami drawing sketches of concerts at Churchill's Hideaway, was filmed by Tina Francisco. He says this short was collaborative and looked to painter Bob Ross' public TV program for inspiration. "We thought it would be funny to make light of my habit of concert drawing by fictionalizing it as a formal thing that happens with an easel, tie, and formal drawing equipment," Butler says.
Collaboration between the filmmakers and artists is a recurring theme in the Miami program. Dancer Ana Mendez says working with director Keisha Rae Witherspoon was inspirational. "I created a [dance and] fell in love with it on the screen," Mendez says. "It made me want to create work for the camera."
For some filmmakers, the collaborations stretched beyond the short. "Lucila Garcia de Onrubia and I are good friends," filmmaker Monica Peña (Ectotherms) says. "I've always been in love with her jewelry line, Deon Rubi, and now she’s evolving into other forms of design and art."
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"We collaborated on our feature film, Hearts of Palm, and both approach creative work through an intuitive process that involves raw materials, resourcefulness, and perhaps a bit of alchemy. I wanted to reveal Deon Rubi the artist... which I think is in the spirit of the overall project pairing artists and filmmakers."
Adapting the art to fit the medium was also important. O Cinema owner and filmmaker Kareem Tabsch says of working with painter Farley Aguilar: "His use of color and the sense of seeing lives being lived [in unsettling ways] truly spoke to me. It was a stretch for both of us."
"I've Never Not Been From Miami" is all about showcasing local talent. "Creatively, there's a strong collaborative spirit among the city's artists," Peña says. "We genuinely want to elevate each other for the common good."
"I've Never Not Been From Miami"
7 p.m. Monday, March 7, at the Olympia Theater, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami ; olympiatheater.org. Tickets for the screenings and the accompanying onstage afterparty cost $30. Visit miamifilmfestival.com.