First “For Reel Film Festival” fights autism in the film industry

A festival featuring low-budget independent films created by local South Florida filmmakers screened late last month focused, organizers said, on increasing awareness of autism in the industry.

The inaugural “For Real Film Festival” opened on Sept. 30 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Miami, a collaborative effort by For Real Pictures and Native Media. 

Alexander Proctor, executive director and president of For Reel Pictures, started the underground film club in 2014.

“My friend Jack Kiersky and I noticed many students around us struggling,” he said. “We wanted to help people create their reels, and we’ve gone from helping students build their reels to helping local filmmakers with theirs.”

According to Proctor, many of the filmmakers in this new community have autism, and he wanted to create a safe space for them.

“Autism, we have found, is the most targeted by people who don’t understand it,” he said. “For film companies, it’s all about making money. So through our organization, how do we give them the tools to get ahead so they can get the most of the career?”

Briana Saati, strategic media director for Native Media, said the group provides an outlet that people with autism may rarely get. 

“Some members of FRP are on the spectrum and are extremely creative,” Saati said. “They are regular folks who experienced setbacks in the film industry for being different and this community has provided a safe space to express themselves through film.”

Yoli Leonard, a member of the organization and a film director, submitted her short documentary, “Sea Hunters,” Sunday night after five years of work.

“My brother practiced spearfishing since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I always wanted to create a documentary, and since they’re much cheaper to shoot, I figured why don’t I just create something I know?”

Proctor and Leonard’s son, who helped edit her short film, convinced her to submit the 30-minute documentary.

The festival showcased a variety of films, ranging from an animation of a depressed clown who gains a new viewpoint of life after an encounter with a ballerina, to a dark comedy of two housemates attempting to sell their house while trying to a hide a dead body.

“Empowering each other sheds light on the fact that Miami has a burgeoning cinematic community,” Saati said. “And we can transform the expectations people have about our city and people.”

Proctor agreed.

“There are filmmakers here,” he said. “Why force people to leave their city to go elsewhere, when we can give them a choice and our Hollywood that we’re designing?”

A second film festival is being planned for next year.