Theater / Film
Miami short Film Festival to offer online & in-person screenings
Claire Rammelkamp in a scene from “The Appointment.” (Photo courtesy of Alexandre Singh)
The 19th edition of the Miami short Film Festival, taking place Nov. 13-15, will feature a selection of films for viewing both online and outdoors.
A sign of pandemic times, this year’s hybrid format will consist of an abbreviated live schedule and virtual offerings of films from more than 30 countries. Organizers chose 48 films for live screening and 70 films for virtual screening. (Additionally, once the festival concludes, the 48 films that screened in the live festival will be available to view online through Nov. 23.) Also in the plans: an opening night gala, seminars, a cocktail reception with live music, and an awards ceremony.
“Like everyone else, we had to make adjustments,” said Krystle Carrara, the festival’s director of marketing and development. “We were lucky enough that we had time to plan, so we split it down the middle.”
The festival has become an international platform for filmmakers to showcase their craft.
William Vela, the festival’s executive director and founder, noted that it wasn’t always this way. What started out as a movie night with a group of friends became much more than he had bargained for. During his first gathering, he had expected 20 or 30 people to attend. Instead, 300 viewers showed up.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Vela said. “I knew that there was a community of talented filmmakers looking for a venue. Everybody started asking, ‘When are you going to do the next one?’ I sent out a call to action and now, almost 20 years later, we are still here.”
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the festival, of course, but not to the extent that one might think. There were even some advantages, Vela said.
“[Submissions have] been 20 to 30 percent lower, but people had more time to write, to work on their films and to edit, so we were not hit that hard,” he said.
There was definitely an uptick in submissions that were pandemic-related. Still, the content remains overwhelmingly diverse in scope.
Visit Miamishortfilmfestival.com to see the selection that will be available virtually and in person at Miami Beach Botanical Garden and the Deering Estate.
The following is a sample of films that will be screened during the event:
‘ANNA’ & ‘ASHMINA’
Director Dekel Berenson knows what it’s like to double down and not give up.
With two award-winning films being screened at the festival, his efforts have definitely paid off.
“Anna” is a film about a middle-aged, single mother in Eastern Ukraine who agrees to attend a dating party in the hopes of eking out a new future.
“Ashmina” highlights the story of a 13-year-old girl in Nepal who struggles to navigate her traditional upbringing against a steady influx of tourists in the region.
The films, which offer a peek into the lives of those who would otherwise remain hidden from society, have caught the eye of judges on the international stage.
Still, there was a time when Berenson didn’t know if he would make it. Being a new filmmaker didn’t make things any easier.
“I didn’t go to film school. I had no experience in filmmaking. I had no film contacts at the time,” he said. “As a new filmmaker, everything was surprising for me, everything was a constant struggle.”
He first worked on “Ashmina,” and he said that period marked “both the best time of my life and the worst.”
“It was very independent and low-budget. It was semi-professional,” he added. “We were working in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language. We had to approach random strangers and find backpackers in the street to work in the film.”
With “Ashmina” under his belt, he then was inspired to make “Anna.”
Working in East Ukraine presented a whole new set of challenges. One of his biggest: making sure that his vision translated onto the screen, despite ongoing objections from those who surrounded him.
“People have their own ideas, and they think that you are stupid or crazy,” Berenson said.
Requests, including his insistence that the star of “Anna” should be an older woman, were often met with outright refusals.
In one poignant scene, a woman with a young child is in a line of other women, all waiting to be selected for a date. Having the young boy in that particular scene caused much debate.
“They thought having the child in the film was a mistake, but many people told me it was their absolute favorite part of the film,” he said. “They tried to talk me out of a bunch of things. But I wanted to make clear that this was like a meat market.”
For those willing to dive into filmmaking, Berenson director has one piece of advice: “Do not do this. Go and study to be a doctor or lawyer,” he said, jokingly. “It’s statistically improbable. It’s like being an outlier.”
But, yes. He would do it again.
“I was waiting for a rejection letter from Cannes when I started to work on my next film,” he said. “I was fully committed to keep working on and making films, so failure is not an option.”
‘MY FATHER’S FABULOUS FUNERAL’
Hearing about your father’s bedroom antics, especially from your stepmother, is one thing. Hearing about it during your father’s funeral is quite another.
Yet this is one of several running jokes in “My Father’s Fabulous Funeral,” about a family mourning the passing of their patriarch.
“My stepmother really loved to talk to me about my father’s sex life,” said Judy Copeland, who produced the short film based on her life experiences.
While making a comedy about a funeral would be a challenge for most, Copeland said she had the utmost faith in her director, Mark Stolzenberg, who was once a professional clown.
He admitted, however, that he wasn’t exactly thrilled when first presented with the subject matter.
“I’ve worked with Judy a dozen times, but when she brought this to me, I was less than enthusiastic,” he said. “But hey, it kind of grew on me.”
Stolzenberg said he worked hard to ensure that the film stayed true to Copeland’s wishes: “The challenge for me was preserving the essence of her story. She definitely had a vision, and I wanted to honor that vision.”
While humor was an overwhelming factor in the film, Stolzenberg also wanted to touch on issues that weren’t so funny.
“Sometimes [during funerals], family members aren’t talking to each other. There’s dysfunction, and there are so many conflicts,” he said.
Tackling these issues on-screen allowed both of them to walk away from the project with valuable life lessons, including what not to do.
“Try not to shoot a cemetery scene on the hottest day of the summer,” said Copeland. “It was 99 degrees!”
That, along with a chorus of cicadas, made for a memorable shooting experience.
“You always have to expect that the worst can happen,” Stolzenberg said.
Ultimately, Copeland thinks her father “would get a kick out of it,” because he definitely had a sense of humor.
“I think that my father would have loved the film, but he would’ve really loved to attend the funeral!”
‘RED (THE COLOUR OF LOVE)’
What’s worse than shooting scenes in a hot cemetery? Try filming a music video in the middle of a Pakistani desert.
But the scorching heat, lack of basic accommodations, and surprise sandstorms didn’t stop Nabeel Qureshi, an award-winning director and screenwriter, from producing this visually arresting, modern-day tribute inspired by an ancient poem.
“RED (The Colour of Love),” stars Sonya Hussyn and Mohsin Abbas Haider, with music sung by Shani Arshad.
In a series of riveting scenes, a couple is shown attempting to escape the wrath of her family. In the end, their love is simply not enough.
Qureshi, who normally focuses on feature films, assembled a summertime crew of 60 to 70 people for a three-day film shoot. His choice of location was influenced by an unlikely source.
“I got my inspiration from ‘Mad Max,’” he said. “Though the story is very different, the landscape had a similar terrain. It was beautiful but barren.”
Qureshi said he worked hard on the visual aspects of the video.
“The meaning of the lyrics were very inspiring, and I wanted to tell a story,” he said. “I also wanted the images to connect with that story.”
One man’s fascination with a band of rebellious seamen is transferred onto the screen in the visually stunning “Flotsam.”
Kjell Redal’s documentary delves into the lives of those who fish in kayaks in Miami. He said that when he initially encountered the practice, it quickly captured his imagination.
Redal, who grew up fly-fishing in Colorado, marveled at the cultural contrast.
“Miami is such a glitzy and glamorous city with big, shiny, white boats. Kayak-fishing is such a brutish pursuit,” he said.
With the assistance of cinematographer Josh Liberman, he documented this chase in gorgeous detail. They amassed a treasure trove of footage, including scenes featuring mahi-mahi and barracuda – but one thing was missing.
“We got a bunch of shots that we were super-happy with, but the one shot that I had in my mind that I think attracted a lot of people to the project is the sailfish,” Redal said. “These big, open-ocean pelagic fish next to a kayak was the kind of visual I was looking for.”
Not one to be put off by a challenge, he purchased a $15 mask-and-goggle set from a local tourist shop and a GoPro camera to seek out the desired footage.
“I ended up being so excited when I had the first sailfish on the line that I jumped into a whole pile of jellyfish, without any rash guard or anything and got the c*** stung out of me,” he said. “But I got the shots, and a lot of those are the main sailfish shots in the final project.”
Redal credited a dynamic behind-the-scenes team, which helped him in his production. You can go far with limited resources, he said, if you find the right people who are like-minded.
“The budget came completely out of my pocket and out of the generosity of people that have worked on this with me,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with what we’ve been able to come away with, and I know that wouldn’t have been possible if they didn’t have some kind of inherent excitement behind the subject matter of the film.”
“The Appointment” offers a peek into the bizarre happenings in the life of Henry Salt, a man hellbent on discovering why his diary reveals an upcoming rendezvous at a restaurant.
Once there, a surreal scene unfolds in which patrons are feasting on a glistening pile of squid and a disemboweled rodent, while waiters walk by with an entire Zebra on a stick.
“It’s a little bit of a rollercoaster ride,” admitted Natalie Musteata, who produced the film. Alexandre Singh, a visual artist, served as the movie’s writer and director.
“We come from a world of art, and since this is our first film, we were trying to make something that would keep audiences in their seats,” Musteata added. “This is a feast for the audience’s eyes. Every frame is full of details.”
Singh and Musteata noted there were both positives and negatives to being first-time filmmakers.
“Sometimes it can be frustrating because we will come up with much simpler, quicker and more effective ways to do things and we would get quite a lot of pushback,” Singh said.
But then, being new at the process did offer a whole new perspective, Musteata said.
“Because we were not tied to conventions of filmmaking, we were able to innovate, and that led to something that was a little quirky or unusual,” she said.
And as for the restaurant scene, Singh said the meals pictured are a little closer to reality than one might think.
“The kind of food that’s displayed, it may feel strange, but in reality that’s what Western cuisine is like,” he said.
“Except for the rat!” chimed in Musteata.
WHAT: Miami short Film Festival
WHEN: Nov. 13-15
COST: The live festival costs $15 per person, $25 for single-ticket opening night gala (includes welcome drink and popcorn), and $90 for a three-day pass. The virtual screenings cost $5 for a single film, $15 for a pre-selected block of films, and $29.99 for an all-access pass.
SPECIAL NOTICE: Starting Nov. 16, the 48 films that screened in the live festival will be available to view online through Nov. 23. Anyone who purchased a virtual pass (all-access or block) will also have access to these films. In addition, a new pass will be sold, only for these 48 films, for $19.99.