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The Little Film Festival That Could

Categories: Culture

A painting of blood-vomiting is not traditional movie theatre décor, nor are promotional posters of a plump, hairy man in tighty-whiteys with the words, “Miami Underground Film Festival.”

Actually, as the festival-pass clearly states, the only rule is there are no rules.So, as the founder, Rafael Diaz Wagner stood next to a table adorned with “Got MUFF,” and “I love MUFF,” shirts, he explained how rejection from the Miami International Film Festival spawned this idea.

“My friends and I all got rejected, and I thought we can’t all be that bad,” said Diaz Wagner. “So, I started this festival to give up-and-coming directors a chance to be recognized.”

There are no specific guidelines as to which films are showcased. They are not necessarily avant-garde or underground film making, and they definitely do not showcase movies with million dollar budgets.

Wednesday at Buck 15 was MUFF’s 3rd opening night. However, the bulb on the projector was broken and the directors ended up having drinks at the Abbey Brewery.

The movies began screening on Friday at Gallery Jax with “Mysteries of the Opposite Sex,” a short film preceding the 8 p.m. feature, “Tribute This.” The directors of “Tribute This,” went in search of rock-stars Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and others to make a tribute album benefiting Youth Music Charity for unrecognized musician, Billy Franks.

The group failed and Franks, although faithful to his music for 30 years, said at the end his dreams of fame will never come true, but he won’t stop.

The crowd reacted in applause and praise asking Franks to play his music, which he agreed to do the following night.

“Marta’s Sex Tape,” came on at about 11 p.m. with slight technical difficulties, to which someone yelled, “We’re so underground we don’t even need sound.” The film received less reaction than “Tribute This,” but won the Golden Coconut Award for best foreign film.

“The judges are local film makers, and they’re in it for life unless we kill them off or they die naturally,” said Diaz Wagner. “People in some festivals take themselves too seriously during the awards, and I chose the golden coconut because I want a festival where people can have fun with no snobbery.”

The two most talked about films were “Phone Sex Grandma,” and “Below the Snow.”

Phone Sex Grandma was about, well, just that, a foul-mouthed, phone-sex-operator, who is also a grandmother. “Below the Snow,” is a Spanish film about dead-end jobs, friendships and family issues. It won the festival award for best feature.

The gallery co-owner, Michael Landsberg premiered his own just-for-fun short film titled, “Ivan Sings.” It involved a man, a doll, sex and fire.

“I think we’ve found our home in Gallery Jax,” said Diaz Wagner.

Critics Notebook:

Personal Bias: I can not get used to unisex bathrooms. I happened to walk into the unlocked door of a bathroom stall where Billy Franks of “Tribute This” was peeing. It was awkward. Even more awkward was how we continued to engage in conversation while I locked myself in another stall.

Random Detail: The 5-month-old Gallery Jax has a donations-only bar next to the movie screen. A few dollars means all you can drink alcohol. So how do they make profit? “We don’t,” said Landsberg, “at least not yet.”

By The Way: Diaz Wagner’s film “Porkchop and a Glass of Water,” is debuting at the Bare Bones Film Festival (barebones.bside.com) on April 26th. Beginning in May, he will host a free screenings on Wednesdays at Gallery Jax, among other monthly screenings. He is also working on having workshops and movie making classes at Gallery Jax. More information will be posted soon on Galleryjax.com and miamiundergroundff.com.

-- Lucy Orozco


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