Theater / Film

Florida In Focus at Miami Film Festival

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
November 22, 2017 at 5:50 PM

This year’s Miami International Film Festival is featuring a group of eclectic productions, which all have a Florida connection. There’s a story about the unique culture of the Everglades, based around the search for the Loch Ness-like Skunk Ape; and a sci-fi movie inspired by Spielberg and heavy on effects. Another offering is a Whiplash-type film about a gentler jazz-band leader at a Florida high school. There’s an inside take on the competitive world of strippers; and in another short a look at the subculture of skateboarders.

The 33rd Miami International Film Festival’s Florida Focus category proves that there is filmmaking talent in Florida. Rules for entry are that the film needed to be partially or wholly shot in Florida or created by a filmmaker who was originally from or was a current resident. In 2011, MIFF launched the category and executive director Jaie Laplante has been expanding it ever since. Five of the six films were shot in Florida, while one shot in Los Angeles came from a filmmaker born in Miami.

Logan Sandler’s Tracks, a short feature about an amateur skateboarder, was shot in Los Angeles, where the director/screenwriter lives. For Sandler, the short served as a “launching ground” for a full-length feature now in post-production, and already scheduled for a spring premiere at a film festival in the U.S. and an international premiere in Europe. Yet, getting a showing of Tracks at the Miami International Film Festival is a “huge honor” for Sandler. Two upcoming projects that the director has in development take place in Miami. “I’m trying to come back to where I grew up and tell my hometown stories. I feel like there aren’t enough films made about the real Miami.” (Tracks, 19 minutes, Monday, March 7 at 9:30 p.m., Cinepolis, Wednesday, March 9 at 9 p.m., Coral Gables Art Cinema.)

Brad Abrahams has a hometown story set deep in the Florida Everglades. In Swan Song of the Skunk Ape, Abrahams explores the legend of a bipedal primate that is definitely “South Florida’s weirdest resident.” Abrahams interviews Dave Shealy, owner of Skunk Ape headquarters, who claims to have experienced a total of three Skunk Ape sightings. There’s Ted Riggs, a man-hunter, who has seen tracks, spotted hair and claims he’s smelled the Skunk Ape. There’s also Lucky Cole, the erotic photographer, who has a story of shooting photographs of nude models in the Everglades and stumbling on rather large footprints. Lucky is also a welcome wagon to the Everglades inviting people into his compound for venison chili and beer.

Abrahams titled the film Swan Song because the culture of the Skunk Ape is “dying out. These are interesting and unique people that have lived a life that most of us have a hard time imagining. Because of the encroaching development in this part of Florida, the wilderness is disappearing. This creature will disappear, too, and the people that live out there.” Originally from Toronto, Abrahams now lives in Florida. “There’s no weirder place in the U.S. than where I live so I knew there was sure to be a story here and in my search I discovered the Skunk Ape.” (Swan Song of the Skunk Ape, 11 minutes, Wednesday, March 9, and Sunday, March 13 at Regal 18.)

Another culture in South Florida? Exotic dancers. Giancarlo Loffredo’s Stripper Wars points his camera in awe at the dancers. Loffredo, known for his Borscht Corp. short films such C#ckfight, first set out for the Wars to be a full-length feature, “I packed it with so much beauty in seven minutes, I just left it as a short film.” The Miami native wanted to make a film about “something I grew up around.” He says he’s been part of the strip culture since he was 16 and his fascination grew when he started to follow the dancers and getting taken in by their “crazy ass tricks.” He follows Kayoz, one of the Flying Angels at King of Diamonds Gentleman’s Club. “They welcomed me with open arms,” he says. “I got into the politics — whose stealing whose moves, who has been there the longest, how things are managed.” Next up, Loffredo points his lens on people who race pigeons. “There’s a whole underground of million dollar gambling around pigeon racing. And in Florida, pigeon racing is legal.” (Stripper Wars, Friday, March 11 at 9:30 p.m., O Cinema Miami Beach.)

A race against the sun was what Tommy Demos and his crew of 30 people were up against in the Everglades to make the 14-minute short film Star Child. It makes its world premiere in Miami at the festival. Inspired by the 1980s sci-fi movies, Demos says his love of Spielberg and 1980s “bubble-gum movies” propelled Star Child.

Shot over 3 ½ days on a private farm in Homestead, the crew was short on time. “We were spending our own money and we knew we couldn’t mess it up, so it was a battle in the Everglades overnight,” says Demos. While Redland Organic Herb Farm was the location, Demos says “outside the frame you know it’s Florida, but inside the frame it could be Appalachia, the Midwest” or some other place Americana. The sci-fi film is filled with special effects for the story of a mother searching for her missing son and a therapy that sends her into a tailspin. “We borrowed many of the creative aspects of the films we love and reconstituted them to make this film.” (Star Child premiered Sunday, March 6 at 4 p.m., O Cinema Miami Beach. It’s been accepted for inclusion in the Sarasota Film Festival and Gasparilla Film Festival, Tampa.)

More down to earth is Sweet Dillard, Jim Virga’s chronicle of the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Ensemble and, most notably, its leader Christopher Dorsey. Friends and fellow photographers Mike and Susan Stocker joined Virga in the journey of Dorsey and his young musicians as they practiced to compete in a national championship in New York City. “When I saw what Mr. Dorsey was doing, I floated the idea around about creating a little project together.” While Virga wanted to tell the Dillard Jazz Ensemble’s story, he also wanted to create a testimonial to the importance of arts in education.

The movie clocks in at 55 minutes, the longest in the Florida Focus category. Dorsey, the unassuming star of the movie, will see it for the first time when Sweet Dillard makes it world premiere. “We wanted him to see it on the big screen.” Virga hopes that a local PBS station gets interested and airs the movie. “My hope is that it inspires people to appreciate arts in education.” (Sweet Dillard premiered Sunday, March 6, 1 p.m., O Cinema Miami Beach. The film has been

accepted to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.)

The 33rd Miami International Film Festival, Miami Dade College, runs March 4 through 13th at various venues. Info at


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