Ectotherms: a Hot Topic After MIFF 2014

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scene from Ectotherms

Consult any dictionary, and it’ll tell you that an ectotherm is a cold-blooded animal, dependent on outside sources of heat to regulate its body temperature. According to the creative vision of Cuban-American, Miami-born filmmaker Monica Peña, though, it’s a word synonymous with Miami teenagers.  The local film is an impression of Miami as it is lived, not imagined: a sultry city where family heritage, urban plight, and a unique landscape intersect to create a youth culture like no other in the world.

Following its World Premiere at MIFF 2014, Ectotherms is gaining worldwide attention. Most recently, its review in Variety labels it “a hybrid creation,” and goes on to say: “It’s a familiar life-in-the-day structure, but the generational and socio-economic context feels fresh, turning up moments of bleak beauty and occasional spacy humor. Incorporating East and West coast hipster trends with immigrant influences and Middle American norms, Miami youth culture is evidently as much a hybrid creation as Peña’s own filmmaking.” Avoiding the typical New York or LA route of filmmaking can be a risk, but Peña did so and flourished with her debut feature. Her aim was to accurately capture the flavors of a city so commonly referred to as a melting pot, and glamorized by connotations of spring break. For that, she didn’t need a budget, she just needed to jump in.

Ectotherms director Monica Peña; Ectotherms cast & crew at MIFF 2014 (Regal South Beach)

Peña delves under the many layers of Miami’s youth culture with a non-professional cast and experimental style to present an organic glimpse into life as an adolescent in perpetual summer. The sun isn’t the only thing soaked up by Ectotherms’ group of four curious teens. In an environment buzzing with activity and unique cultural collaborations, they absorb surroundings. Edgy and brash, Peña doesn’t follow formula. She uses fiction to display the most non-fictional aspects of Miami. Its artistic perception of reality removes the sugarcoating of misconceptions to construct something more jagged and honest.

Most alluring is the way Ectotherms portrays the charming reckless abandon that only adolescents can truly harness. Its non-existent budget seems to only boost its authenticity and its grungy soundtrack reflects the tastes of each young mind explored. The film takes a hands-off approach in an attempt to remain true to life, as if peering down a microscope at the blending of diverse cells. As Peña puts it in her director’s statement, “We learned to become unattached to the movie we wanted to make and instead developed a higher sensitivity for the cinematic in our lives.”

-Tatyana Chiocchetti

Jaie Laplante

Jaie Laplante is the Miami Film Festival's executive director and director of programming. Learn more about Jaie on Programmers.