Liberty examines the effects of development in Liberty City.Courtesy of Miami Film Festival
Unlike this year’s live-action Oscar shorts, which mostly centered on white boyhood, the Miami Film Festival’s shorts lineup has upped its own ante by bringing a host of diverse voices to the screen for its 36th annual event. The fest lineup balances established talents like Patricia Clarkson with rising local filmmakers. Here's a sampling of the homegrown talent you can catch this week.
Me 3.769. Miami Beach resident Elaine del Valle has worked as a casting director for nearly a decade. In recent years, her interest in directing and producing has grown. In 2017, she produced the short film Victor & Isolina, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Del Valle’s latest work, Me 3.769, centers on Latina girlhood and is inspired by true events. Del Valle adapted the script from her celebrated one-woman play Brownsville Bred, which ran off-Broadway in New York. The film’s 10-year-old protagonist, Elaine (Samantha Lopez), uses a fashion magazine as her aspirational guide and scrutinizes her prepubescent body in a way that will likely recall awkward memories for many. A family trip to the beach brings the harsh realities of her burgeoning womanhood to the forefront. Coming in at just under nine minutes, Me 3.769 delivers a powerful message for women everywhere. Part of Shorts Program 1. 12:45 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 3:45 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at Silverspot Cinema, 300 SE Third St., #100, Miami; downtownmiami.silverspot.net. Tickets cost $13 via miamifilmfestival.com.
The Skin of Yesterday. Del Valle also served as one of the producers on The Skin of Yesterday, Andrew Garcia’s gem of a film. Born and raised in Miami with Puerto Rican roots, Garcia shows his dedication in artful cinematography, casting, and editing. During production, funding fell through at a critical stage and threatened the life of the project, but Garcia soldiered on, taking out a loan to finish the movie. Not to be missed, this film explores a family’s struggle to survive the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Shot on location in the small town of Arroyo, Puerto Rico, in the midst of real-life hurricane aftermath, the movie incorporates cell phone video, news reports, and eyewitness accounts to layer the narrative. Through the film, Garcia highlights the plight of Puerto Ricans as they suffer through American inefficacy in the wake of disaster. Both The Skin of Yesterday and Me 3.769 will air on HBO later this year. Part of the Lynn & Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation Cinemaslam Competition. Noon Saturday, March 2, at MDC’s Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St., Miami; towertheatermiami.com. Tickets cost $13 via miamifilmfestival.com.
Liberty. This film examines a different sort of community destruction. Set in the heart of changing Liberty City, Liberty is both touching ode and cinematic meditation. Written and directed by native Miamian and Sundance Knight Fellow Faren Humes, Liberty takes its sweet time exploring this oft-overlooked community. The opening scene bursts with joyful energy — a crew of young black women practices dance moves. For a brief moment, this is a feel-good story. Then, the literal noise of redevelopment, hammers and drilling, invades. A new living complex is underway. This monstrosity looms large, casting a shadow on everything. The constant sound of construction signals a death knell for Alex (Alexandra Jackson) and Loggy (Milagros Gilbert), two best friends grappling with the inevitable. A quiet tenderness surrounds the film’s intimate moments — a porch conversation between neighbors, Loggy’s washing of Alex’s hair. It all serves as a time capsule for a community loyal to itself until the very end. Part of the Shorts 2 program. 5:15 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at Silverspot Cinema, 300 SE Third St., #100, Miami; downtownmiami.silverspot.net. Tickets cost $13 via miamifilmfestival.com.
Malabar. Veteran filmmaker Freddy Rodriguez brings his talents to the shorts program with suspenseful ICE drama Malabar, a co-production with Filmgate. Rodriguez boasts a slew of award nominations from his 16-year career in the industry, and it shows on the screen. Based in Miami, he helms 66 Films, Inc., his production company. Capturing the diversity of South Florida’s rural and urban landscapes, Malabar is anything but idyllic. It opens with an ICE abduction, so know from the start you'll spend the full 16+ minutes wringing your hands in agony. You’ll also likely yell at the two annoying kids who can’t seem to listen to anything their mother says. (Elaine del Valle plays the role of Officer Garcia.) It has all the trappings of a horror movie, but the horror is real, playing out day-to-day for families across the region. With an unsettling score and eerie landscape, you’ll be awash in suspense the whole way through. Part of the Shorts 2 program. 5:15 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at Silverspot Cinema, 300 SE Third St., #100, Miami; downtownmiami.silverspot.net. Tickets cost $13 via miamifilmfestival.com.
Chasing the Thunder. What good is a Miami film list without an ocean documentary? Co-directed by Mark Benjamin, a Coral Gables High School alum and veteran filmmaker who, according to his bio, has spent “innumerable hours” spearfishing in Biscayne Bay, this offering is the marine equivalent of a high-speed car chase on some of the roughest seas in the world. We follow the activists of the ship Sea Shepherd as they pursue one of the most infamous illegal fishing boats over 110 days and nearly 10,000 miles. The access to the crew is unparalleled, and both the story and the journey are fraught with challenges and unexpected surprises. Chasing the Thunder is the only feature-length project on this list and the only one set outside South Florida, but the ramifications of illegal fishing and ocean protection pertain to everything Miami folks hold dear. 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at MDC’s Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St., Miami; towertheatermiami.com. Tickets cost $13 via miamifilmfestival.com.
Miami Film Festival 2019. March 1 through 10 at various venues; 844-565-MIFF; miamifilmfestival.com. Tickets to most screenings cost $13.
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April Dobbins is a writer and filmmaker based in Miami. Her work has been supported by Sundance Institute, Firelight Media, ITVS, Oolite Arts, WaveMaker, International Documentary Association, Southern Documentary Fund, and Fork Films.