Award-Winning Filmmakers, International Film Professionals Announced As Jurors for 35th MDC’s Miami Film Festival

Miami, FL — Organizers of Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival 35th edition scheduled for March 9 – 18, 2018, announced today the jury members of eight competition categories including  Knight Made in MIA Competition, Knight Competition, HBO Ibero-American Feature Film Competition, Jordan Ressler Screenwriting Award, Zeno Mountain Award, IMDbPro Short Film Competition, Rene Rodriguez Critics Award and Cinemaslam.

Eleven finalists were selected for the Festival’s inaugural $10,000 Knight Made in MIA Competition, sponsored by the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, which is open to any film – short or feature, documentary or narrative – in the Festival’s Official Selection that features a qualitatively/quantitatively substantial portion of its content (story, setting and actual filming location) in South Florida, from West Palm Beach to the Florida Keys, and that most universally demonstrates a common ground of pride, emotion, and faith for the South Florida community. The members of the jury are:

  • Victoria Rogers, VP/Arts, Knight Foundation. Rogers joined Knight Foundation in 2015, which has invested more than $122 million in the South Florida arts over the past decade, including in film. The foundation sees its investments in Miami’s film community as a way to tell more local stories, connect people to each other, and to this city. Previously, she was the executive VP of New World Symphony and orchestrated the successful $200 million capital campaign of the Frank Gehry-designed campus.
  • Brad Abrahams, Filmmaker. Abrahams is a Florida-based documentary filmmaker originally from Toronto, Canada. Among his directorial credits are On the Back of a Tiger(16), co-directed with Jeremy Stuart, and Miami Film Festival Official Selections “Swan Song of the Skunk Ape” (15) and Love and Saucers (17).
  • Carmen Peláez, Actor, Writer, Filmmaker. Peláez is a Miami native. She performed her solo play Rum & Coke in LA, Chicago, Off-Broadway and most recently shot it live at the Freedom Tower for Fall 2018 release. Winner of the HBO NYILFF Short Film Competition with “The Acting Lesson” (12),  she also made “A Queen Without His Crown” and most recently “Ocho” (18).

The Festival’s signature $40,000 Knight Competition, sponsored by the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, will include 10 feature films directed by filmmakers who have presented at least one feature in a previous edition of the Festival. The members of the jury will be:

  • Ximena Caminos, Artistic Director and Chair of Faena Art. Caminos is Artistic Director of Faena Art, a nonprofit organization that provides a conceptual framework for time-based and performative cultural practices. As Partner and Creative Director of Faena, she has made art and culture the foundation of all its endeavors to successfully bridge culture, community-building and urban development.
  • Ciro Guerra, Filmmaker. Guerra is a Colombian filmmaker from Rio de Oro. He directed Wandering Shadows (04), and The Wind Journeys (09), which debuted at Cannes Film Festival and was an Official Selection of Miami Film Festival. His third feature, Embrace of the Serpent (15), gave Colombia its first-ever Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and was featured at MFF’s GEMS Festival.
  • Manuel Martín Cuenca, Filmmaker. Cuenca is a Spanish filmmaker from Almeria. Five of his feature films have been Official Selections of Miami Film Festival – The Cuban Game (03), The Weakness of the Bolshevik (04), Hard Times (06), Half of Oscar (11), and Cannibal (14). His latest film, The Motive (17), won a FIPRESCI International Critics Award at Toronto International Film Festival and two 2018 Goya Awards.

HBO returns as sponsor of the Festival’s $10,000 Ibero-American Feature Film Competition, this year featuring 25 finalists, including three world premieres. The members of the jury will be:

  • Leslie Cohen, Vice President of Film Programming, HBO. As VP of Film Programming, Cohen is responsible for the acquisition of Spanish language films, concerts, specials and series for HBO Latino as well as acquisition of films from the major studios for both HBO and Cinemax. She is celebrating 24 years with HBO in 2018.
  • Antonio Méndez Esparza, Filmmaker. Méndez Esparza is a Spanish filmmaker from Madrid. His feature debut Aquí y allá (12) won numerous international awards, including the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes. Life and Nothing More (17), his second feature, had its US premiere at MFF GEMS 2017, and has gone on to be nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
  • Angel Manuel Soto, Filmmaker. Soto is a Puerto Rican filmmaker from Santurce. His short film “In The Privacy Of My Home” (11) and feature debut The Farm (15) were Official Selections of Miami Film Festival, as were four of his Virtual Reality (VR) shorts at MFF GEMS 2017. His VR pieces “Bashir’s Dream” (17) and “Dinner Party” (18), both premiered at Sundance Film Festival.

The highly sought-after $10,000 Jordan Ressler Screenwriting Award, won in recent years by Oscar nominated Theeb, Venice Golden Lion winner From Afar and Chilean world premiere launch Little White Lie, has 20 diverse and intriguing first-produced screenplays in competition.  The award is sponsored by the family of the late Jordan Alexander Ressler, an aspiring screenwriter and Cornell film studies graduate who died in a tragic hiking accident at the age of 23, before realizing his dream. The members of this jury will be:

  • Matthew Porterfield, Filmmaker. Porterfield is an American filmmaker from Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, his feature films include Hamilton (06), Putty Hill (10), Sundance Film Festival competition selection I Used To Be Darker (13) and his latest film, Sollers Point (17), screening at this year’s Festival.
  • Jane Schoettle, International Programmer. Schoettle is an International Programmer for Toronto International Film Festival. Several of her discoveries have won TIFF’s People’s Choice Award, including Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri in 2017. She has worked as a script consultant and served on numerous film juries including at SXSW. Since 2016 she has also served as Director of Programming for Aspen Film Festival.
  • Rudi Goblen, Writer, Dancer, Actor. Goblen has trained and worked with DV8 Physical Theater, Cirque Du Soleil, and is a founding member of Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre and Teo Castellanos/D-Projects. He is currently teaching in the Youth Artist Leadership Summer Program created by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and has recently released a book of poems, prose, and artwork titled A Bag of Halos and Horns.

The Zeno Mountain Award is a $5,000 cash prize established at Miami Film Festival’s 2017 edition and is funded by Miami-based Fringe Partners. The jury-selected award celebrates the diversity of abilities and disabilities, and seeks to reward a film of any length or genre in the Festival’s Official Selection which helps break down barriers to our understanding of people living with disabilities. The award is named after the non-profit Zeno Mountain Farm in Lincoln, Vermont and is inspired by the actors and filmmakers in the acclaimed 2016 documentary Becoming Bulletproof. The jurors in this section are:

  • Romero Britto, Britto is an international artist known for his vibrant, bold and colorful patterns that reflect his optimistic view of the world. Brazilian-born and Miami-made, Britto’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in over 100 countries. Britto is an activist for charitable organizations worldwide, including as a board member for Best Buddies International, a Miami-based organization dedicated to creating opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Brian Byrnes, Founder/Director, Agency Byrnes Communications. Byrnes leads Agency Byrnes Communications, a Miami-based boutique PR consultancy focused on promoting emerging artists and technology from the U.S. and Latin America. Previously, Byrnes spent a decade as a Buenos Aires-based correspondent covering Latin American politics and culture for CNN International, NPR and The Hollywood Reporter.
  • Andre Gardner, Founder, Fringe Partners and Zeno Mountain Award. Gardner leads Fringe Partners, a Miami-based investment company focused on promoting early-stage creatives in music, film and technology. He has managed the popular band Strangefolk for over 20 years and established the Strangefolk Scholarship in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. Gardner founded the Zeno Mountain Award in 2017.
  • Ajani AJ Murray, Actor/Activist. Murray is a professional disabled actor and advocate for the disabled community. His breakout role in the feature documentary Becoming Bulletproof led to roles in Bardo Blues, Take a Look at This Heart, and The Homecoming. He has appeared on Comedy Central’s popular Drunk History and worked as a story and script consultant on the films Dealt and My Hilarious Life. AJ is currently prepping a short film/pilot called Able, which he hopes to begin production on in the summer of 2018.
  • Francesca Silvestri, Producer. Silvestri is an accomplished film producer whose credits include the Oscar and Golden Globe- nominated The Florida Project, directed by Sean Baker. Silvestri has also worked on Baker’s previous features Starletand Tangerine, as well as dozens of other projects, including the directorial debuts of women filmmakers including Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Demi Moore, Eva Mendes, Alicia Keys, Bryce Dallas Howard, Zoe Saldana, Ashley Judd, Laura Dern, and Eva Longoria.

The Festival’s $2,500 IMDbPro Short Film Competition features 25 short films from 17 countries. The jury is headlined by Col Needham, Founder and CEO of IMDb. Needham founded IMDb, the #1 movie website in the world, in 1990, and continues as CEO to this day from his office in Bristol, UK. He is a board member of Into Film and Film Independent, and received a 2014 Creative Coalition Independent Spotlight award for his work to support independent filmmaking. Recently he has served as a jury member at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

The short jury includes Miami- and internationally-based filmmakers, cinephiles and industry professionals who serve on the Festival’s Programming Committee. This year the participating jurors include: Samuel Albis, Dudley Alexis, Joshua Jean-Baptiste, Rachel Lauren Bleemer, Brian Blum, David Borenstein, Michelle Contreras, Adam Dunshee, Andrés Farías Cintron, Adrian Garcia, Myriam Grad, Fiona Green, Luis Hernandez, Stan Jakubowitz, Man Kit Lam, Juan Lazzaro, Isaac Mead-Long, Steve Mesa, Ileana Oroza, Donald Papy, Carolina Piña, Hal Prewitt, Ronnie Rivera, Rubens Riol, Kevin Sharpley, Lisa Sloat, Jose-Antonio Valencia and Christine Vorsteg.

The Festival’s Rene Rodriguez Critics Award is bestowed by all accredited film critics covering the 2018 Festival to one outstanding film in the Official Selection. The Award was established in 2018 in honor of Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald’s film critic from 1995 to 2017, for his outstanding body of work and contributions to the art and discourse of cinema. This year, Rodriguez will announce the winning film in person. Members of this year’s jury are:

  • Gary M. Kramer / Film Critic for and other various publications, Co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2
  • Hans Morgenstern / Vice Chairman of the Florida Film Critics Circle (FFCA), Film Critic for, contributor to Miami New Times
  • Juan Barquin / FFCA Member, Film Critic for Dim The House Lights, GALECA Member, Arts contributor to Miami New Times, Flaming Classics Programmer
  • Michelle F. Solomon / FFCC Member, GALECA Member, Film Critic/Editor for ​​, Writer for ​Artburst Miami
  • Rubén Rosario / FFCA Member, Film Critic for ​
  • Allison Hazlett-Rose / FFCA Member, Film Critic for FlickDirect
  • Alfred Soto / FFCA Member, Film Critic for Humanizing The Vacuum
  • Ruben Peralta Rigaud / MPAA Certified, OFCS Member, Film Critic for in Miami & Revista Cineasta in Dominican Republic, Writer for Culturacolectiva from Mexico
  • Joanne Butcher / Writer for Cinesource Magazine
  • Dwight Casimere / Entertainment Editor of The Times Weekly Chicago
  • Hernando Olivares / Film Critic contributor to El Sentinel/The Sun Sentinel and Radio Caracol Miami
  • Roger Walker-Dack / Film Critic for
  • Gisela Savdie / Film Critic for in Miami and El Heraldo in Colombia
  • Dave Montalbano alias “Cinema Dave” / Film Critic for Observer Newspaper
  • Carlos DeVillavilla / Film Critic for Cinema 365 Blog in Orlando
  • Mayra Blanco-Martinez / Film Critic for Conexiones Magazine

Winners in these categories, as well as the $10,000, audience-voted Knight Documentary Achievement Award will be announced at the Festival’s Awards Night ceremony on Saturday, March 17th at the Olympia Theater, part of the CINEDWNTWN program presented by Miami Downtown Development Authority. The Festival’s closing night selection, the International premiere of the smash hit Spanish comedy Holy Goalie!, will screen after the ceremony.

The Festival’s CinemaSlam competition aims to discover, showcase, and celebrate the work of undergraduate and graduate students in Miami/South Florida film schools. Open to any student enrolled in a participating South Florida college/university upon the completion date of the film. In this edition, students from the following colleges from Miami /South Florida have submitted their shorts: New York Film Academy Miami, Florida International University, Miami Dade College, University of Miami, Miami International University of Art and Design New World School of the Arts (University of Florida) and the Center of Cinematography, Arts and Television. The members of the jury will be:

  • Omilani Alarcón, Multidisciplinary Artist. Alarcón is a multidisciplinary artist and scholar who resides in Miami. She received her degree in Africana studies at Cornell University and studied Yoruba at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University. Her debut feature film, Latinegras: The Journey of Self-Love Through an AfroLatina Lens (18) is featured at this year’s Miami Film Festival in the Knight Made in MIA Competition.
  • Michael Arcos, Filmmaker. Arcos was raised in Miami and is currently based in New Orleans. He began his film career editing on VHS and attended Miami Dade College’s North Campus where he first worked with 16mm film. He has been exhibiting his work internationally for over a decade, and his latest short film, “This My Favorite Mural”, is featured at this year’s Miami Film Festival in the IMDbPro Short Film Competition.
  • Jessica Kavana Dornbusch, Filmmaker. Kavana Dornbusch wrote and directed her first feature, Love and Debate (06), which starred Sean Astin, Bryan Greenberg, and Adam Rodriguez and received distribution worldwide. She also directed the short films “Escape” (12), with a storyline based on “The Piña Colada Song”, and “Snap” (15). She is currently preparing her next feature film, Reefa, based on the life of murdered artist Israel Hernandez, set to shoot in Miami later this year.

The Cinemaslam Awards will be announced and distributed on Saturday, Mar. 10th at 1pm at MDC’s Tower Theater Miami.

Miami Film Festival’s largest jury of all – the audience – will vote during the entire 10 days for their Audience Favorite Feature and Audience Favorite Short. The two winners will be announced at the conclusion of this year’s Festival on March 18th.

Individual tickets for all Festival events are currently on sale. For more information or membership opportunities, visit or call 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF) or 305-237-FILM (3456).

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About Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival                                                      

Miami Film Festival is the only major film festival event housed within a college or university. Celebrating cinema in two annual events, Miami GEMS Festival in October and its 35th annual edition March 9 – 18, 2018, Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival is considered the preeminent film festival for showcasing Ibero-American cinema in the U.S., and a major launch pad for all international and documentary cinema. The annual Festival more than 60,000 audience members and more than 400 filmmakers, producers, talent and industry professionals. It is the only major festival housed within a college or university. In the last five years, the Festival has screened films from more than 60 countries, including 300 World, International, North American, U.S. and East Coast Premieres. Miami Film Festival’s special focus on Ibero-American cinema has made the Festival a natural gateway for the discovery of new talent from this diverse territory. The Festival also offers unparalleled educational opportunities to film students and the community at large. Major sponsors of the 2017-18 Festival season include Knight Foundation, American Airlines and Miami-Dade County. For more information, visit or call 305-237-FILM (3456).

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.

About HBO®

Home Box Office, Inc. is the premium television programming subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. and the world’s most successful pay TV service, providing the two television services – HBO® and Cinemax® – to approximately 134 million subscribers worldwide. The services offer the popular subscription video-on- demand products HBO On Demand® and Cinemax On Demand®, as well as HBO GO® and MAX GO®, HD feeds and multiplex channels. HBO NOW®, the network’s internet-only premium streaming service, provides audiences with instant access to HBO’s acclaimed programming in the U.S. Internationally, HBO branded television networks, along with the subscription video-on-demand products HBO On Demand and HBO GO, bring HBO services to over 60 countries. HBO and Cinemax programming is sold into over 150 countries worldwide.

About Jordan Alexander Ressler Charitable Fund

The Jordan Ressler Screenwriting Award at Miami Film Festival recognizes and supports artists in their careers as professional screenwriters. It was created by the South Florida family of Jordan Alexander Ressler, an aspiring screenwriter and Cornell University film studies graduate who, during his brief entertainment career, held production positions with the Tony award-winning Broadway hits 700 Sundays with Billy Crystal and Jersey Boys.

About Fringe Partners

Fringe Partners is a Miami-based investment group focused on promoting positive change through investments in music, film, and technology. Fringe focuses on promoting early-stage creatives with a passion for taking a risk and making a difference.

About IMDbPro and Withoutabox

IMDbPro ( is the essential resource for entertainment industry professionals. This membership-based service includes comprehensive information and tools that are designed to help entertainment industry professionals achieve success throughout all stages of their career. IMDbPro offers members the following: detailed contact and representation information; tools to manage and showcase their IMDb profile, including the ability to select their primary images and the credits they are best “known for”; exclusive STARmeter and MOVIEmeter rankings that are determined by page views on IMDb; a casting service to post breakdowns and apply to roles; the IMDbPro app for iPhone and more. IMDbPro is owned and operated by IMDb, the #1 movie website in the world. Additionally, IMDb owns and operates Withoutabox (, the premier submission service for film festivals and filmmakers.

MDC’s Miami Film Festival Media Relations Contacts:


Adam Kersh, Brigade | +1 917-580-6785 |
Guillermo Restrepo, Brigade | +1 917-580-6785 |


Salazar PR, Andrea Salazar | Tel: +1 954-756-0652 |

MDC Media-only contacts: Juan C. Mendieta, MDC director of communications, 305-237-7611,; Sue Arrowsmith, 305-237-3710,, or Allison Horton, 305-237-3359,

Miami Film Festival