Miami filmmaking scene lures Sundance

Outside of Hollywood and New York, the biggest nexus for movies in the United States is the Sundance Institute, which presents its film festival each January and holds intensive workshops and labs for aspiring and established filmmakers and playwrights year-round.

But whereas before you had to travel to Park City, Utah, to take advantage of Sundance’s resources, the Institute is now taking its show on the road — and Miami is one of the first stops.

Armed with a $200,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and organized locally by the Miami Filmmakers Collective, the institute will present two one-day flash labs that are free and open to the public. Two other flash labs will be held in Philadelphia as part of the grant.

“I believe that Miami is having a movement in independent film like it had in the visual arts a decade ago, where all of the factors that make for a great scene and suddenly everyone is watching,” says Dennis Scholl, vice-president of the Knight Foundation, who spearheaded the idea. “It’s not just Miami talking about Miami. On an international level, people are starting to look at Miami’s film scene, the way it happened with Art Basel. When you are building a movement, external validation is meaningful. That encourages further creativity. Last year, films from Miami played at over 100 film festivals around the world.”

The first flash lab, “New Frontier,” will explore the convergence of technology and storytelling, and takes place Saturday from 4-6 p.m. at the New World Center SunTrust Pavillion, 500 17th St., Miami Beach. Presenters will be:

• Susan Bonds, a pioneer in experiential storytelling and founder of 42 Entertainment.

• Jonathan Harris, an artist and computer scientist who used multimedia to convey the complexities of contemporary life.

• Jigar Mehta, a digital entrepreneur, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

• Kamal Sinclair, a producer, theatrical director and senior manager of the Sundance New Frontier lab.

• Scott Snibbe, a media artist specializing in interactive art who has collaborated with Björk and James Cameron, among others.

The public portion of the event will be preceded by an intensive daylong private workshop with 50 Miami artists working one-on-one with the artists.

The Sundance lab is hosted by the Miami Filmmakers Collective, which was co-founded 2 1/2 years ago by several local artists including Ali Codina (whose documentary Monica & David aired on HBO and won Best Doc at the Tribeca Film Festival) and Juan Carlos Zaldivar, a teacher at Miami’s International Art University and director of several films (including 90 Miles, The Story of the Red Rose and Soldiers Pay).

“We were all friends and professional collaborators and we were always talking about the need for a filmmaking community in Miami,” Codina says. She took notice of the rise of the Borscht Corp., which mounts a popular and eclectic film festival every other year and has had a short accepted into Sundance for the last four years (including Bernardo Britto’s Yearbook, which won the Short Film Jury Award: Animation in January. There was also the Indie Film Club Miami, a membership-based organization that hosts a monthly screening of locally made shorts called “I’m Not Gonna Move to L.A.” and recently presented this year’s Film Gate Miami Interactive Festival, designed to help filmmakers via interactive screenings and master classes.

Codina and her collaborators decided the MFC could help bring those and other groups together via monthly events — screenings, seminars, workshops — in which people could network and learn about each other’s work.

“Our approach is more about the intellectual side of filmmaking — the craft and storytelling side, talking directly to filmmakers directly with an audience present and having conversations that benefit us all, then adding a social aspect after each event so we can expand the conversation. Now that visual technology is much more accessible, there are a lot of individual storytellers who didn’t know each other, so we wanted to provide a platform for them to meet and cross-pollinate.”

The second Sundance flash lab, to be held on March 22, will focus on short-film making. But this Saturday’s lab is designed to attract all kinds of artists, not just those who work in film.

“There are real pockets of talent out there around the country, especially now that the means of production have become more accessible and we see collectives popping up,” says Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute. “With Miami, it was an ideal moment to take advantage of that. This is part of a broader effort to be a home for artists from all over the world to celebrate creative excellence. With the New Frontier program, we’re looking at the convergence of art and technology in a new way and artists working in film and media on the cutting-edge. Since Miami is such a vibrant arts town across the board, you have so many art makers and so many disciplines that launching the program there seemed like a perfect idea.”