The premiere screening of 'For My Sister' took place on Saturday, June 29th, 2019 from noon to 2pm at Coral Gables Art Cinema. Starring Stephanie Maltez, Cristina De Fatima, Natalie Ramirez, William Guevara and Mireya Kilmon. Music by Ben Morris and FogDog.
Two nights before the event, I posted the following pair of screencaps from one of my favorite movies, The Spirit of St. Louis (1957). The film is about Charles Lindbergh's historic solo-flight across the Atlantic. In that post, I quoted the accompanying lines from Lindbergh (played by Jimmy Stewart) in the film:
"Come on now, go to sleep. Cut your motor. Let it rest now. Maybe I should have spent the night in the hangar. Maybe that's what's keeping me awake. Maybe I should be with her out there on Roosevelt Field."
I couldn't easily surrender to sleep either! Even two nights away, I wanted to stay awake feeling the ever-rising peaks of anxiety and intense nervous excitement over my own flight - one which was finally due for landing! Writing, producing, directing, shooting and editing (and premiere organizing) For My Sister was no easy feat. It was a year and two months of strenuous mental, physical and emotional labor. And beyond two close friends who'd offered feedback on a near-final cut of the film, no one beside myself had seen the film in anything near its premiere-ready form. Not cast. Not family. No one. And I'd been sitting on it for weeks!
But fearful of messing with my circadian rhythm too much, I eventually talked myself into getting a good night's sleep and so I did.
The following day, I couldn't help but play showman to my family and totally hype up the experience I wanted them to have without really spoiling anything. After 17 years as a filmmaker and shameless self-promoter, I've developed a talent for such theatrics. It was fun priming them even if I knew that it would make a lackluster reception in the theater sting all the more. But despite the occasionally descending fear of that happening, I actually had a complete and unwavering confidence and trust in what the supremely talented cast of this film and I had conjured before my trusty Samsung Galaxy S9+ (the phone I shot the near-entirety of the film on).
Throughout the remainder of the day, I busied myself refining the structure of my opening remarks as well as preparing as best I could for what I'd hoped would be a brief Q&A (which is no sweat to this decorated Toastmaster, I might add). I also checked in with Stephanie Maltez and the rest of the cast to gauge nerves/excitement and relish it with them. And I found it immensely helpful to visualize how I would want the event to go from start to finish. In retrospect, I made so many oversights that I should have spent far more time in this personal virtual reality space. A note for next time.
The venue for the premiere screening was Coral Gables Art Cinema. It offers an elegant and roomy 141-seat auditorium that I'd visited for four film screenings in the past. They offer rental of the theater for a price but they stress an interest in providing it as a community service. That's admirable and certainly proven in that the theater coordinators and technicians I worked with throughout preparation for the event were all incredibly dedicated and hospitable to the event's every need. And it was a joy testing my film out on their equipment in the weeks prior to the event. Consequently, I can only give my highest recommendation to anyone interested in a theatrical exhibition beyond par!
As night fell, I got to bed early and managed to sleep through the night.
I summarily woke and readied for the big day with great ease. I could have easily fallen victim to a serious degree of debilitation due to all the nerves and pressures expected but that aforementioned confidence and trust was no passing fancy. At the risk of repeating this bit of biographical insight ad nauseum - after 17 years, I have a pretty damn good idea about what I'm doing. Spend a significant amount of time with any craft and you'll start to feel rock-solid cement beneath your feet.
And guess what! I had a friendly date to the premiere - Ms. Olivia Wills! Self-described "scientist, environmentalist and patriarchy-smashing feminist." We met when we were both FIU students in 2016. I had arranged to pick her up at her apartment and some light rain accompanied the arrangement but I certainly didn't invite such a wrathful monsoon to hammer down on all the fun! Seriously, it was the worst possible weather I could imagine for such a momentous day as I attempted to simultaneously make enjoyable conversation with Olivia and maintain vehicle traction on our way to Coral Gables. Nerve-wracking!
Luckily, we arrived in one piece and at the theater ten or so minutes before the doors were set to open for the attendees, allowing ample time for me to check in with the theater staff and receive any pertinent instructions. I hate being late to anything except family gatherings.
Slowly, the attendees started to trickle in. So many familiar faces. From both the past and more recent circumstances. In such inclement weather, I thought overall attendance would take a serious hit but that was sooo not the case. I tried to greet everyone and encourage them to find a seat as I wanted to start promptly at the expected showtime of noon. But it was very difficult to be so curt with some of the guests as they included the principal actresses and actor of the film, Florida State Senator Annette Taddeo, local film critics, local feature filmmakers, former high school teachers and so many more people very dear to me. It was the wildest intersection of familiar faces from such varied social contexts! Overwhelming!
The crowd in the lobby soon dissipated. Then, my older brother Juan interrupted me in conversation and described to me that the auditorium was at near-capacity. I didn't believe him so I casually approached the auditorium doorway, peered inside and...
Holy shit. He was right.
I entered the auditorium, surveyed the gathered audience, took a deep breath and then checked outside to see if there were any last-minute stragglers to corral inside. There weren't.
I re-entered the auditorium, retrieved the nearby microphone and commenced my opening remarks to hearty applause.
After addressing the presence of Senator Taddeo; making some dedications to my parents, the cast and the lead actress, Stephanie Maltez; acknowledging the graciousness of the theater venue and reminding the audience to practice proper phone etiquette, I signaled to the projectionist to roll the film presentation. Then, the lights dimmed, I took my seat next to Ms. Olivia Wills and the show began...
I suppose it took some time for everyone to get acclimated to the unique form of the film but once that was done, the film's humor, drama and daring-do were all met with appropriate, consistent and substantial reactions from what I observed was a highly attentive and captivated audience. I couldn't have asked for more.
As much as I'd love to delve into a comprehensive account of my thoughts on how well certain moments played and the artful nuances of each of the performances from the cast, I risk spoiling the surprises laden throughout. And as filmmakers, what's behind those corners is our most potent implement. But I'll recite something I wrote to Stephanie Maltez a few days before the screening: "The cruel fact of the matter is that filmmakers (including acting talent) never see the same movie as audiences do upon initial release. Magic only works on the unsuspecting, not those intimately familiar with the mechanics of illusion."
In a later conversation with Stephanie, I piled onto that notion that I could really only see the narrative and dramatic engineering behind my own film. I could certainly not feel the emotions of the characters and their situations in the same manner that an audience member coming to it all fresh would. Not an iota of it. That's the unusual curse of a filmmaker completely enveloped by the totality of the creative process. So be it. I can always visit someone else's film at the local cineplex or arthouse cinema for that type of enjoyment.
As the ending credits concluded to a final round of applause and the house lights came back on, I proudly marched to the waiting microphone and then faced the audience. What followed is now an extended blur in my memory and perhaps it's better that way.
I immediately railed off some fun facts about the nature of the film's production: shot near-entirely on my phone, locally in Miami, employing 25+ local actresses and actors, for under $6,000, with no crew beyond myself and no equipment beyond a single-hand-held apparatus.
Then, I opened the floor to questions from the audience for what I expected would be a brief Q&A sensitive to the time period of the theater rental. But quite a few questions came forth and it went on far longer than I expected. The questions addressed the state of mental health care locally, the choice of shooting the film on my phone, the more fantastical elements of the film's events, the time-traveling nanodrones (of course), what was next for me project-wise, what challenges I faced in making the film, what inspired me to make the film and consideration of grants as well as other forms of funding for future projects. I don't want to recount my responses to all of these questions as something has to remain exclusive to such a special event but I think I handled all the questions satisfactorily even though I concluded the Q&A with an uncomfortable and uneasy feeling as is usually the case for me under such long-form, impromptu speaking situations.
As a crowd of relatives and close friends descended upon me after the close of my presentation, I was consequently stretched in a hundred different directions and struggled to extend my most sincere thank yous for attending to as many guests as I could. After the sea of attendees flowed back out into the lobby, there was a flurry of activity taking place which included numerous photo opportunities (many tragically dashed), initiated but unfortunately interrupted conversations, a Facebook Live broadcast(?) and a countless number of smiling, seemingly satisfied faces. That last visual I'll probably remember for always.
The crowd soon dispersed back out into the city on a much cleared up Saturday afternoon and the event was concluded. A fine success, to be sure.
Now, two weeks removed from all the sound and fury that was the premiere screening of my first feature-length film, I sit typing this account of such an indelibly memorable experience amid promising progress on a second feature film project I hope to have produced before the end of the year. I've broken the money and technological barriers enough for some time and now I have my sights set on the time barrier! On top of that, I'm monitoring ticket registrations and seeking promotional opportunities for the second screening of For My Sister at Coral Gables Art Cinema on Saturday, August 10th which'll now be open to the general public (get your free tickets at Eventbrite)!
And so, I'll end on this note: If I could think and work as I have for the past 17 years on projects of ever-increasing interest and collaboration with so many immensely talented individuals up until the very end of my life, I'd look forward to it with the same exhilaration as any aviator charting their course across the seemingly boundless and infinite stretches of land, sea and sky...