Theater / Film
With LGBTQ issues at stake, Miami Filmmakers’ ‘Clocked’ at OUTshine is lesson in empathy
Armand “Cleo” Fields in Miami filmmaker Noah Salzman’s “Clocked,” getting its East Coast premiere at the OUTshine Film Festival on Wednesday, April 26. The festival opened Thursday, April 20 and runs through Sunday, April 30 at Silverspot Cinemas, Miami. (Photo courtesy of “Clocked.)
When Miami filmmaker Noah Salzman started writing his movie “Clocked” in 2019, two years later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would sign into law House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Act, now notorious known as the “Don’t Say Gay Law,” banning the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools for children in kindergarten through third grade. Only days before Salzman’s film about an 18-year-old struggling with his gender identity makes its Florida premiere at the Outshine Film Festival, the governor expanded the law to include all public classrooms through senior year.
Another bill, while not specifically mentioning drag shows, is to block venues from admitting children to “adult live performances.” This after the DeSantis’ administration moved to revoke the liquor license from the Hyatt Regency Miami for hosting “A Drag Queen Christmas.”
Salzman’s film is about 18-year-old Adolfo Rivera (played by Germain Arroyo) a talented lightweight boxer living in Miami with his tight-knit Hispanic — and very Catholic family — including his older brother, Ramon. They support his boxing ambitions and while he contributes his financial winnings to help the household, he’s secretly saving up for his own dream – he wants to be a woman.
Adolfo finally confides in one person.
“I wasn’t expecting to tell someone,” he says. “Hey, it’s OK I always wanted a gay friend,” says Camilla, a girl who he has been paired with on a date by his mother.
“I’m not gay,” responds Adolfo, “I want to be a woman. I want to be a woman. I’m a woman. I just don’t like me. I don’t like my body,” he cries.
The movie follows the teen’s quest to be comfortable enough to appear in a local drag show.
“I wanted to write a film that was for that lost teenager who was in between the family they are born into and the other family who they find and who will accept them,” says Salzman.
While Salzman, who identifies as straight, started out with the intention of his film depicting the difficulty of people struggling with gender identity, “Clocked” now is timelier than ever, he admits, during what’s become a political war by conservatives over LGBTQ rights, especially issues concerning the transgender community.
“I think this is the best time for a film like this to be shown and honestly, I have submitted the film to festivals in states where I knew where drag and trans issues were being chastised. I think that the fact that there is this villainizing is a tragedy,” says Salzman. A subplot in his film is about a transgender woman who is shot and killed in a hate crime.
The 28-year-old says he got the idea for his script as a member of the theater community, where he would perform improv comedy at Little Haiti’s Villain Theater – the venue makes plenty of appearances in “Clocked” standing in as a nightclub where drag shows are performed.
“In theater spaces, wherever you are, you will end up interacting with talented, exuberant queer individuals, but when you get to know them on a deeper level, you discover their stories . . . that many of them were not able to come out on their own terms and that the reason they sought out other communities was that they weren’t accepted by their families or people they were close with,” he says.
“I want this film to provoke an open and honest dialogue about why empathy and why supporting the people in your community who are queer is so important. I thought at least our film showed why it is so important to empathize. The fact that festivals like OUTshine are alive and thriving and helping put a spotlight on films of this nature is so crucial, especially at times like this,” says Salzman.
Support for the writer-director’s script, and for many other aspects of the film, came from Salzman’s own family, including his father Bernard Salzman, a cinematographer for 45 years, who was the director of photography for “Clocked” and is also one of two executive producers.
There was a level that the film needed to achieve, which was cinematic quality and, above all, genuineness.
“I am straight, but I am an ally for the LGBTQ+ community and what was most important to me was authenticity. All of the LGBTQ+ characters are played by LGBTQ+ actors. The drag queens in the film are professional drag artists who have performed off Broadway, on television . . .”
Armand Fields who plays one of the main characters, Cleo, has worked on multiple Showtime series including “Work in Progress” and “The Chi,” the television movie “The Thing About Harry,” plus on NBC’s “Chicago Fire.”
While the film was 100 percent shot in Miami, the casting was done nationally with actors from Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and many from Miami. Miami stage and screen actress Elena Maria Garcia, plays Alma, the mother of Adolfo and Ramon, played by Danell Leyva.
Leyva, a Cuban-born, Miami native is the first Cuban-American on the United States Olympic men’s gymnastics team. He says his entire life was spent training for gymnastics and competitions. So, when he retired at the age of 24 in 2016, he moved from Miami to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, something he had always wanted to do.
However, the 31-year-old remembers vividly when he decided that he wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. “My mother (who was a member of Cuba’s national gymnastics team) met up with someone who used to do gymnastics with her in Cuba. He came over and brought an old tape and I was mesmerized. I thought it was people flying and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ ”
Competing in the London games in 2012, he won a bronze medal in the individual all-around competition and in Rio, was awarded two silver medals – one for parallel bars and one for horizontal bar.
Now, he jokes that he’s run away to join the circus. Leyva lives in Las Vegas where he performs in Cirque du Soleil’s show “KÀ” at the MGM Grand.
Leyva says that early in the casting of “Clocked,” his manager, now one of the producers on the film, Maritza Cabrera, was approached about him playing the role of Adolfo. “They reached out to her to say, ‘Hey, we have this great script we think Danell would be great as the lead.’ ” And while Leyva came out as bisexual in 2021, both he and his manager believed that Adolfo should be played by someone who was, “at least, non-binary.”
After reading through the script, the part of Ramon, the older brother, felt more suited for Leyva. On one of the first days on set, Leyva met with Arroyo, who had already been taking boxing lessons (there are no stunt doubles in the film and Arroyo did his own boxing). “I wanted us to go to this gym because I felt like it would build the chemistry between us onscreen as brothers.”
The Olympian will be honored with Outshine Film Festival’s Vanguard Award before the screening of “Clocked” on Wednesday, April 26. The prize recognizes notable individuals in entertainment for their contributions in helping to tell LGBTQ+ stories, as well as exemplifying outstanding leadership and support of community equality, representation and education.
Salzman says Leyva auditioned against 50 to 100 people and “he truly won out and his athleticism was nothing more than a benefit to add to the authenticity of the film.”
As far as the movie’s title, the writer-director explains that it has several meanings – double entendres, if you will. “In boxing, clocked means to be punched in the face, while in the drag community, to be ‘clocked’ is when someone calls you by your ‘dead’ name, i.e. your real name while you are in your drag attire.”
Whatever the meaning, with the current state of affairs in Florida, “Clocked” couldn’t be timelier.
WHAT: OUTshine Film Festival-Miami East Coast premiere of “Clocked.”
WHEN: 7:15 p.m. awards ceremony followed by the film, Wednesday, April 26. Also available to stream online May 1 to May 5. Film festival runs Thursday, April 20 through Sunday, April 30.
WHERE: Silverspot Cinemas, 300 SE 3rd St., Miami.
COST: $15 for in-person screening or online streaming.
INFORMATION: 305-751-6305 or outshinefilm.com
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