Those who attend film festivals aren't looking for the mainstream, Cineplex offerings. That isn't the goal. Amid the indie films, the foreign entries, documentaries, and the world premieres, there's another reason to canvass the program for something you might not see anywhere else.
Given the Miami Film Festival is the only major film festival to be produced by a college or university, the festival's film school competition, CinemaSlam, is one of those places for special discoveries.
Miami filmmaker, writer and screenwriter Nicolas Calzada, whose short films have screened at film festivals on four continents, including Miami International Film Festival, was this year's pick to watch the shortlisted films submitted to CinemaSlam, and select the finalists. The competition is limited to undergraduate and graduate students in Miami/South Florida film schools.
"CinemaSlam is really the opportunity to get a sneak peek at what our community's voices of the future are thinking about and the stories they are starting to tell," said Calzada.
Miami International University graduate student Christine Vorsteg submitted her master's thesis film, "At Your Service," a comedic short film about a concierge at a Miami Beach hotel, and was selected as one of the nine finalists. Her movie, "Valet" was selected for last year's CinemaSlam.
The student filmmaker said CinemaSlam gives her a chance enter a film festival at a fraction of usual festival costs. "The submission fee is $10 to enter the competition with the chance of winning $500. If you win the prize, the money can be used to market your film and eventually get it into more festivals."
Calzada said Vorsteg's film, which is based on her own experience in Miami's hospitality industry, fit his criteria.
"I try to judge a film by setting aside my personal tastes in terms of the kinds of movies I'd seek out if I had a free evening. There were some conventional romantic comedies in the mix, including some I selected because what they set out to do, they did it well. If they gave me something interesting and gave me something that felt real, the film moved to the final round."
With the Oscar-winning film, the made-in-Miami "Moonlight," moviemakers like Vorsteg and Calzada are hoping that Miami's film industry starts to become a production mecca. "We certainly have the homegrown talent to make it a hub for film, but we need those tax incentives to bring productions here." Even more commercials and television shows being created in Florida would allow those in the film industry to get work. "If they don't think they can make a living in Florida, then the homegrown talent goes away, and that would be a shame," said Calzada
Vorsteg has become a part of what she calls "a great local student community of collaborative filmmakers. That's been a large pool of resources that I've had to help me and who I've helped out. The reality is that the film industry in Miami doesn't offer as much opportunity as we'd like, but we're still optimistic."
She said that scrappy Miami makes creative artists go one step further. "I think because of where we are, we're forced to think outside the box and not go with the traditional narrative forms as a way of telling a story." Vorsteg cites the influence of places like Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, which is an immersion of visual art and technology. "I think you'll see student filmmakers using their talents in that same way."
From the entries Calzada selected, he said that there was craftsmanship on display that was undeniably Miami grown because of its determination.
"I wouldn't be surprised if a certain number of the filmmakers we see in CinemaSlam kept at it, stayed in Miami, and contributed to the film culture here that 'Moonlight' paved the way for."
The nine finalist student films in CinemaSlam that will screen Saturday at Miami Dade College's Tower Theater are:
"AT YOUR SERVICE" by Christine Vorsteg (Miami International University)
"BALLET BUS" by Isaac Mead-Long (University of Miami)
"CASTING" by Hansel Porras Garcia (Center of Cinematography, Arts and Television)
"DEER GOD" by Tomorrow Mingtian (University of Miami)
"KURU" by Jonathan Cuartas (Miami Dade College)
"OCD" by Alexander Beregovoy (Miami Dade College)
"OSCURO" by Yolanda Baez Oyola (Center of Cinematography, Arts and Television)
"PARADISE" by Andrea Garcia Marquez (University of Miami)
"RED STRING" by Minghao Shen (New York Film Academy Miami)
A component of Miami Film Festival's Florida Focus program, CinemaSlam, is Saturday, March 4, at noon, at Miami Dade College's Tower Theater, 1508 S.W. 8th St., Miami, FL. 33135. Tickets are $13. Miamifilmfestival.com.
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