Six University of Central Florida students are rolling out the red carpet for the debut of their two short documentaries at New York’s renowned Tribeca Film Festival.
“Black.Butch.Woman” by Nia Cumberlander and “United Colors of Orlando” by Ali Akbari, Ashley Vega, Ella Figueiredo, Lauren Cruz and Christian Arango both premiered at Campus Movie Fest and earned a spot in Tribeca’s star-studded lineup. The UCF films, picked out of thousands of college submissions, won two of the eight Tribeca Campus Docs grand prizes.
“I didn’t really think it was real,” Cumberlander, a 22-year-old Film B.F.A. major, said of her film being accepted into Tribeca. “You always dream your work might get to a film festival.”
Cumberlander’s journey to Tribeca was riddled with speed bumps.
“When I applied to the BFA [film program] the first time, I didn’t get in. When I applied to UCF the first time, I didn’t get in,” Cumberlander recalled. “Within a year, I’ve gone from someone who is, like, really unsure of my place here to getting these really big validations.”
Cumberlander’s film explores the identity politics behind being a black lesbian. She invited three of her black, butch friends to discuss their individual gender expression. Jasmine Reynolds, Rachel Griffith-Chandler, and Fredeja Hayes shared their stories, and in the process, may have subverted societal stereotypes.
“[They’re] talking about their journey to feel comfortable in their own skin,” Cumberlander said. “What it feels like for them to take up space in the world. I think that’s the hardest thing about coming out. It’s not who am I going to be with. It’s how am I going to fit into the narrative of society.”
Cumberlander said she wanted to promote the queer image and filter it through the eyes of queer people to challenge the expectations many have when encountering black, masculine women.
“I feel the freedom to talk about this now,” Cumberlander said. “When I was younger, I would’ve watched something like this… but now… I feel the freedom to actually make it.”
“United Colors of Orlando” also paints a picture of the LGBT community by documenting the outpouring of art in the wake of the Pulse shooting.
“It was, I think, the worst tragedy that we’ve had in Orlando, and… it was important to show people the good that actually came out of it,” Vega, a 22-year-old radio-television production major, said.
Capturing Orlando’s reaction to the Pulse shooting was important to Akbari, a 25-year-old cinema studies and radio-television production major and member of the LGBT community.
“After Pulse, the silent majority who [we]re in support of the LGBT kind of rose up,” Akbari said. “And with that obviously came a lot of [artistic] expression.”
Art creates a perfect storm of accessibility, awareness and creativity. It’s a great way to show how Pulse impacted LGBT members and allies, Vega said.
“We didn’t want to focus on the darkness of it, the tragedy,” Figueiredo, a 25-year-old cinema studies major, said. “Every other visual media [involving Pulse] is about the tragedy. There was nothing done about the art. And we live here, so we see the murals.”
Their decision to shed light on a dark subject paid off.
Both documentaries will premiere at New York’s Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 on Saturday, April 28 at 3 p.m.
Figueiredo said she sees the importance of both films’ recognition.
“Two of [the films] are not just from UCF, but from marginalized groups,” Figueiredo said. “I think that that shows A, where filmmaking is going and B, [that] you’re seeing all these amazing filmmakers come from [places that aren’t] the hubs of film. We’re not from LA. We’re not from New York. And here we are.”