Miami isn’t necessarily known for its film output. Many consider pop cultural outings such as Miami Vice and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as its celluloid peak. Recently though a growing group of creatives have been releasing independent films that have won plenty of praise from critics – best example of this would be Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
The Miami Underground Film Festival (also known as M.U.F.F.) is launching this upcoming Saturday to spotlight a group of official selections and award some of South Florida’s best works. (Full disclosure TuffGnarl.com is one of its Premier Sponsors -ed.’s note)
I sat down with festival founder and coordinator Andrew Schwartz to discuss what we can expect.
My writing partner Dan Gonzalez and I had spent several years creating an action-comedy pilot (on spec) called Sunny City/Shady People. We were finding it difficult to submit to the right festivals and eventually just decided to create our own. DIY, right? We love Churchill’s Pub and actually had shot several key scenes there, so it seemed like the natural home for our new underground film festival.
Initially I tried to organize it almost a year ago with TuffGnarl’s own Chuck Livid over a round of beers at Lazer Wolf, but that fell to the wayside with time (it didn’t help that the rights lapsed to a fascinating documentary we won’t name.) When I revived the idea earlier this year Chuck was kind enough to agree to curate our music stage. And he did a kick ass job, snagging us Armageddon Man, The Wombombs, and BLEUBIRD!
What’s been the response from Miami filmmakers?
Very positive. People down here are always hungry for new opportunities to showcase their work. We focused on shorts that might not necessarily be screened at the larger South Florida film festivals, even rejecting several quality PBS-approved entries because they didn’t suit the tone we’ve tried to establish. And we picked a broad variety of movies with the hopes that it will encourage cross-pollination between the different production crews and cast members attending. We figured the more the weirdos in SoFla’s underground film scene rub up against and influence one another, the better the work they’ll produce.
Any particular entries or directors you’re personally excited to see?
After digging through over 1000 films to pick the best twenty or so, I can honestly say all of them. Damn, that sounds so obnoxiously diplomatic.
I know two of Dan’s absolute favorites were LaVey Laveau, a dreamlike orgy of celebrities visited by Anton LaVey and Marie Laveau while classical music plays, and Jimmy The Killer Dick, a student thesis film rejected by FAU. Yes, it’s about a murderous phallus. Whatever you’re picturing–you’re probably correct. TROMA, give Jon Schaefer a distribution deal!
I’m thrilled to be screening Fishbone, a beautifully shot mixture of live-action and woodcut-inspired animation that follows a man lost at sea and the dead fish who becomes his companion. It was made by a young UM film student named Abhi Chatterjee; I think he’s one to keep an eye on for more fascinating projects.
NIVERO 54 by Pamela Longsword is a disco-rific look at the ’70s club scene as embodied by a squad of bearded drag queens strutting their way into Studio 54. We’re excited to be showing the Director’s Cut version of this one.
Then in addition to a variety of dramas and comedies we’ve also got several documentaries, including: Cosplay and Me, a heartwarming look at the costume play scene; 305 Graff Origins and Who Talks At Night, two very different presentations of the graffiti subculture; and Boots, Fists and Politics, a history of the punks and skinheads who founded groups like Anti-Racist Action.
Why do it at Churchill’s Pub?
Because Churchill’s Pub is the heart of live music and underground culture in Miami! And I know their booking agent.
You’ve screened hundreds of movies. What kinds of things were you looking for to make into the Miami Underground Film Festival?
The most important thing, first and foremost, was that it came from locals. We wanted to show off all the weird and wonderful original talent that South Florida has to offer, not just re-screen work from New York, California, et al. So even though we received outstanding entries from all over the world (seriously, we had people from China, Iran, Australia, France, Argentina, etc. submitting entries. Like, dozens from Iran for some reason; did somebody post a MUFF ad in an Iranian film school or something?), we rejected them all in favor of Florida grown films. That still left us with over a hundred local films to sort through.
We looked for creativity, originality, and markers showing the film was uniquely a product of Florida. If they passed that bar, we started hashing it out over more technical details.
Pacing is key. A great story can be killed if it drags too much. We also looked for non-expository dialogue, humor, a strong directorial voice, natural acting, and plot cohesion. You’d be amazed how many short films are just scenes instead of complete stories. We saw a number of films that were overall quite good but lacked an ending. And not in some cool, artsy, mysterious, open-ended way; they probably just didn’t know how to end it or didn’t have the budget to fully execute their vision. The best films we saw had a brisk, enjoyable pace with believable dialogue and narrative integrity. Or they were just plain enjoyable, schlocky or not.
You’re incorporating some really fantastic bands into this mix. TuffGnarl.com’s own Chuck Livid chose them right? How important is music to the world of film?
Even in the age of silent film, music was critical to the viewing experience. They’d just have somebody playing an organ or the like as accompaniment. We’re going to do the same, giving people a night filled with visuals as well as live music.
Chuck picked the bands for us to represent different genres of film. We’ve got Quantum Waves, who are more ambient and electronic, giving off a scifi vibe. The Wombombs are pure retro surf rock, like a montage from a Tarantino flick brought to life. Armageddon Man captures the punk vibe of Churchill’s, conjuring up classic images of horror and b-movies. Then BLEUBIRD… I don’t even know what to say about Bleubird. That cat is a wealth of references from all over the pop culture spectrum and beyond. Really smart indie hip hop.
I think any film buffs that aren’t as clued in to the local music scene are going to leave with a headful of new tunes and hopefully an appreciation for some music they haven’t heard before.
More info on the Miami Underground Film Festival:
Date: Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
Time: 5pm – 3am
Location: Churchill’s Pub, 5501 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, Florida 33137
Ticket Price: $10