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  • Writer's pictureJoe Capozzi

‘The Reel Revolution’ — West Palm Beach movie festival shines spotlight on aspiring filmmakers 🎥

The comedy film troupe I AM SUS in February shooting a promotional video in downtown West Palm Beach for the inaugural Subculture Film Festival, set for March 18-20 at The Peach arts collective, 3950 Georgia Ave. (JOE CAPOZZI)

ONE WEEK BEFORE the 94th Academy Awards, a group of movie lovers will gather under the Southern Boulevard overpass near downtown West Palm Beach for the launch of a new and decidedly different kind of cinematic celebration.

The inaugural Subculture Film Festival, set for March 18-20 at The Peach arts collective, has a movie mission summed up by its motto, “The Reel Revolution.’’

You won’t find a red carpet or any big screen A-listers (or even B- or C-listers) in Louis Vuitton gowns and Thom Browne tuxes mingling around The Peach’s movie room and art galleries at 3950 Georgia Ave.

But for three days, the Subculture Film Festival will shine a long sought-after spotlight on an ambitious but overlooked community of aspiring filmmakers around Palm Beach County and beyond.

There will be film showings and panel discussions, along with live music and art showings, all book-ended by an opening and closing gala, including a Saturday night Blue Velvet party (Frank Booth gas masks optional).

“We want to give local filmmakers a platform to showcase their work,’’ said festival co-founder Jose Jesus Zaragoza.

“We believe Palm Beach County can stand on its own when it comes to creativity and talent. We’re working hard to make this region an up and coming film destination.’’

While the idea behind the festival is to help local filmmakers collaborate and exchange ideas, it will also showcase the best new independent films from beyond South Florida.

More than 120 entries have been submitted so far from 24 countries including China, Egypt, India, Thailand, Korea and Ukraine, a diverse offering made possible by the online submission website

There are 18 submissions from Iran, the highest from a single country after the U.S.’s 46.

“It’s been building for some time,’’ Subculture Group CEO Rodney Mayo said about the interest in the festival, which he’s co-organizing with Zaragoza.

Scene from "Hierophany,'' shot in Pahokee by Broward County director Kevin Contento, who will participate in a panel discussion at the Subculture Film Festival in West Palm Beach.

The festival will award $5,000 in cash prizes, donated by Subculture Group, to winning entries in a variety of categories. The three main ones are short films up to 25 minutes long, medium- and feature-length films, and films shot and edited on smartphones.

Others include music videos; comedy; documentaries about civil unrest, the pandemic and the environment; experimental and avant-garde films; and films shot by students.

The final deadline for submissions is March 14.

“We went for an aggressive timeline to get the festival out this first year in March, to try to create something that is genuine and sincere and then build for a larger year two,’’ Zaragoza said.

It’s certainly not the first time someone has tried to organize an independent film festival in West Palm Beach.

In the 1990s, Kris Kemp launched the West Palm Beach Independent Film Festival and The FLO Film Fest before those events stalled when he left Florida a few years later.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival, which started in 1996 as a Palm Beach County commissioner’s passion project, blossomed for a while before fizzling out after the final one in 2017.

Jose Jesus Zaragoza (contributed)

Mayo and Zaragoza understand the challenges they’ll face in trying to establish the festival.

But they believe there’s enough interest and creative work being done locally, especially at a time when smartphone videos are so ubiquitous, to give the event the traction it will need to grow year after year.

Perhaps the biggest thing the festival has going for it are its two creative co-founders.

Mayo, known for building the Subculture Group’s South Florida restaurant/club empire, is the unofficial prince of the local alternative music and art scene. The Peach, the arts studio he opened last year with Craig McInnis, has ample space for the film festival,

Rodney Mayo

Zaragoza is an independent journalist and filmmaker who also works with the Glades Initiative, a nonprofit serving underprivileged communities around Lake Okeechobee.

His ties to the Glades have made him an unofficial ambassador in recent years to independent filmmakers, such as the husband-wife duo Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas, who have shot several award-winning short films around Pahokee.

One of those films is “Rabbit Hunt,’’ which premiered in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival and will be part of an online panel discussion Bresnan will lead at the Subculture Film Festival.

“What Rodney and Jose are doing, they're starting a film community that is based in independent cinema,’’ said Bresnan, who is based in Austin. “They’re going to put central and south Florida on the filmmaking map in a good way that’s very grassroots.’’

Right now, the biggest Florida star on that map is the Miami Film Festival, which Zaragoza attended this past weekend to collect a documentary development award given out by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Miami Film Festival and If/Then Shorts.

He was one of eight South Florida filmmakers who won Knight Heroes 2022 development grants that provide direct mentorship to local filmmakers to “explore a range of socially, politically and culturally relevant topics that are rooted in the region.’’

While there, he said, he also kept an eye out for any operational clues that might help him and Mayo give the Subculture Film Festival a firm foundation.

The Subculture Film Festival got a key boost from the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission, which agreed to serve as an honorary partner promoting the event.

It’s now one of 11 festivals recognized by the commission, along with niche events like the Art of Recovery Film festival focusing on sobriety and addiction and the Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival.

“We’re always excited to welcome a new festival that brings diversity,’’ said Michelle Hillery, the county’s deputy film commissioner.

“The first year is probably the hardest to get it kicked off. But especially after covid and having so much of these done virtually, to have something in person and getting engaged again with the production community there's a lot of excitement around that. We’re excited to see how they evolve and what this first year is like.’’

The spirit of the Subculture Film Festival is captured in a whimsical promotional video produced by I AM SUS, an up-and-coming cinematic comedy sketch troupe from the West Palm Beach area.

It features two passionate but clueless aspiring filmmakers on a Quixotic quest for a platform to show their work when they stumble on a poster advertising the Subculture Film Festival.

“I like the idea that it’s more of an independent film festival so you can appeal to student filmmakers and people who are still trying to get a start. That’s what’s exciting about it,’’ said cinematographer Ryan Kelly.

Another I AM SUS film, made in 2019, includes a must-see music video spoofing 1980s movies. The video, yet another example of a locally-made film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience, can be seen here:

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.

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