The Sunshine State shone brightly at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, with filmmakers from southern Florida taking center stage.
One of the festival's strongest films was Pahokee, a documentary feature directed by the West Palm Beach-based husband and wife team of Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan. The couple spent ten months living in the small Lake Okeechobee town of Pahokee filming all aspects of the 2016/2017 school year. The story unveils through the eyes of four high-schoolers as they struggle to navigate through senior year. A thoroughly absorbing, monumental portrait of hardships, friendships, and community, Pahokee is a must see when it makes its Florida premiere at the Miami Film Festival on March 2.
Prior to Pahokee, Lucas and Bresnan have been best known for their award-winning short films. Pahokee is the filmmaking duo’s first feature-length film.
“Florida is a very rich place for storytelling," said Lucas. "Small towns, farms, big cities, intrepid souls, Latin American immigrants, older people from the north retiring here, people who live around the Everglades. It’s a vibrant place of fascinating characters
Interestingly, Pahokee wasn’t the only film about life on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. Hierophany, the first short narrative film by Kevin Contento of Davie, Florida, follows a young boy as he hunts swamp rabbits in the sugar cane fields of Belle Glade. A ghostly poetic gem of a film, shot in silky black and white, Hierophany was a memorable selection at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, which happens alongside Sundance. Slamdance offers a more intimate moviegoing experience than Sundance with a focus on raw, innovative filmmaking and a policy to only show features made for under one million dollars.
The brutality of Hurricane Irma pummeling the Florida coast was captured in all of its epic horror in Aquarela, the latest sound and image tour de force by Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky. Aquarela is about the power of water in all of its various forms on Earth and was an official selection of Sundance’s New Frontiers, which spotlights cutting edge filmmaking.
Another New Frontier selection and perhaps the most inventive feature film in the entire festival was The (ART) oF BE(i)NG by Miami born director, J.B. Ghuman, Jr. A brilliant, unrelenting sonic and visual collage with fragments of Disney animation, blasts of 80s funk music, painted live nudes, and well, you name it. I was told that The (ART) of BE(i)NG is about The Little Mermaid's Ariel as she rises out of the ocean into a higher level of existence, but that’s only scratching the surface. This film was an exploding roller coaster ride for the senses. Ghuman spent five years creating this brave, kaleidoscopic masterpiece, which is not for the faint of heart.
While Florida was well represented on the big screen at Sundance and Slamdance, it was also represented in music. Vero Beach native and recording artist, Priscilla Renea brought the house down with her live shows at Sundance’s ASCAP Music Café. Renea, who has written songs for Madonna, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey, proudly sang about her growing up on her grandmother’s Vero Beach farm in songs like “Family Tree” from her delicious new neo-soul album, Coloured.
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And if Park City was any indication, the future looks very bright for movies made in Florida. Brazilian filmmakers Daniel Barosa and Nikolas Maciel announced at Slamdance that their next dramatic feature would be set in Miami and focus on Brazilian immigrants.
Barosa said “So many skilled doctors, engineers, and business leaders leave Brazil for a better life in Miami, but once they get there, they can only find jobs as cab drivers, cleaners, or waiters. We know people that this has happened to and we are going to tell that story on film.”
Florida is no stranger to Sundance. Local filmmakers, such as members of the Borscht Corporation, have represented their home state at the festival for several years running. And movies made in Florida have made big waves outside the fest in recent years. First Man and The Florida Project received Academy Awards nominations. Two years ago, Moonlight, filmed entirely in Florida on a modest budget, won the Oscar for Best Picture.
After her fourth sold out Sundance screening of Pahokee, director Ivete Lucas said, "Our next film is about life in the Panhandle. I can see myself making films in Florida for the rest of my life.”