Indie Filmmaker Julian Yuri Rodriguez Takes on Miami International Film Festival

The grizzled profile of a man with an exaggerated scar running down his face appears in almost every ad for the Miami International Film Festival, on buses, at bus stops, and in print. The tagline reads, "Every Character Under the Sun." Oddly enough though, you won't be seeing this character at the festival, nor the man under the makeup, Yuri Rodriguez.

That awkward fact has led to an Internet clash between one of Miami's up-and-coming filmmakers, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, and its biggest cinematic festival that includes a controversial mock MIFF website and some serious social tension.

Rodriguez, the son of the man pictured, is a 25-year-old director behind the short film shot in 2012 which shows the scene of a sordid human "cockfight." In the last year, C#ckfight has screened at about 15 festivals, including Slamdance in Park City, Utah, and garnered awards, including a Masterminds grant for Rodriguez from Miami New Times at last month's Artopia event.

The photo at the heart of the dispute was shot by Shanya Batya on October 20, 2012, at Eve Nightclub in Miami, at (or near, depending on whom you ask) the filming of C#ckfight.

Both Batya and Rodriguez agree it started with a few friendly on-set photographs, "for the love of film," as Batya says. Rodriguez admits, "There was no discussion of where the photos would go, no paperwork."

They had agreed at the time that she would put them on her blog, and he could use them for promotion. When he found out that Batya had sold this portrait of his father to MIFF for their campaign, he was initially elated.

"That was awesome, it was weird, extremely weird that they were going to use a character from my movie as their poster, but I found it funny. So I was repping it super hard," he says. "I'm seeing my dad all over the city. It's awesome."

Though he claims to still be happy with the image, Rodriguez began to feel taken advantage of when neither the festival nor Batya credited his film as the source for the picture. Despite the fact that the elder Rodriguez was still wearing the makeup from his role in C#ckfight, they contend it's not a photo of Rodriguez's character, but rather a portrait of his father.

"That portrait was not about C#ckfight, that portrait was about photography, my portraiture, and how I see the world," says Batya. And Executive Director of MIFF Jaie Laplante agrees. "The photograph is a candid, off-set pose that is representative of Shayna's work -- a style she dubs 'portraiture.'" After MIFF commissioned Batya to do the poster, they hired local ad agency Lemon Yellow to handle the campaign. She admits, "The people that selected this photo and did the artwork had no idea, one, where this photo was taken, and two, what its relevance was."

Rodriguez, who didn't enter C#ckfight to show at MIFF, wishes the festival would simply acknowledge the photo comes from his film.

"They were able to use my image because I failed to cover myself." Rodriguez says.

But that's not the end of the film fight. On the same day the festival opened, Rodriguez pushed back against MIFF by scooping up the URL miamiinternationalfilmfestival.com and creating a mirror site to the fest's own homepage.

The difference between his site and MIFF's is that his is solely focused on C#ckfight; he even used it as a particularly unique way to release his film online to the public. In his parallel site, the main character from his film, Molly -- a sodomizing monster -- appears triumphant in a logo suspiciously similar to MIFF's. Molly's face as a cartoon is superimposed over stills from films actually showing at MIFF, and the tag #rapedog, the character's original name, dominates the page.

"It turns out they also failed to block all the html coding on their website and failed to get a domain name that is the name of their festival. I got it, and I altered it with my own text," he explains. "Kind of how they added their text to the poster. I thought it was a cool way to show C#ckfight."

Batya thinks Rodriguez is using the whole conflict as a springboard to promote C#ckfight. (Jaie Laplante declined to comment on the knockoff site.) "What he's doing is not fair," she says. "Julian is a professional troll."

And certainly, the site is exploitative. But just like Batya feels bullied, Julian says he does too. "I made this website, paying homage to them. I was inspired by their graphic design work. I was inspired by their creative imagery. I basically made a website to premiere C#ckfight," he says.

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