MIAMI — There is a certain beauty to the portraiture of cinema, in being able to showcase the stories of individuals and places that aren’t often highlighted. For years now, Third Horizon Film Festival has offered these unique glimpses into communities across the Caribbean and their diaspora, through intimate and flat out fun social gatherings. This year, things look a little different, with a primarily virtual event for their fifth edition. As their mission statement notes, the decision was made “in consideration of the precarious public health scenario across the Caribbean — as well as in communities of color in the US, so overlooked in the recent tangle of pronouncements and new guidelines.” 

But the move from a public space to a digital realm is a welcome one, with the 2021 lineup of films becoming largely accessible to audiences all around the world (with a few exceptions geo-blocked to the US or Florida). This extends their reach beyond limited screenings within South Florida, providing anyone with a chance to experience the festival’s offerings. 

From Celaje (2020), dir. Sofía Gallisá Muriente

This year’s Third Horizon’s line-up offers yet another rewarding mix of features and short film programs; a beautiful collection of documents that showcase a variety of individuals reflecting on their past, present, and future. This is most evident in Sofía Gallisá Muriente’s Celaje (Cloudscapes), one of the most experimental and intriguing of the bunch. By opening with a visual metaphor of rocks being worn down into soil and then cementing back into rock, the documentary smartly establishes itself as a piece about how our histories are cyclical.

Muriente’s film feels inspired by those of Chantal Akerman and has such a clear sense of mood; its visuals and music come together to create a haunting and sentimental piece of filmmaking. Celaje is as much about her grandmother’s memories and reality as it is about Puerto Rico’s history. The film, like the island itself, evolves constantly, circling its core themes: life and death, like beauty and disaster, are inextricably linked.

From When Angels Speak of Love (2021), dir. Helen Peña

She-Paradise, Maya Cozier’s feature, is a simple and traditional film but no less interesting. This coming-of-age story is an intimately shot film. The way the camera gazes on bodies constantly in motion is both respectful and engaging, particularly in situations that many might perceive as overly sexual and demeaning. There is such an energy to the way lead actor Onessa Nestor embodies this young woman’s journey towards self-actualization, and whatever highs and lows may accompany it. It’s a film that understands the language, spoken and unspoken, that exists between Black women in spaces of their own creation as well as in those where men seek to control them. 

Just as rewarding as the features are some of the short films within Third Horizon’s line-up. Take Helen Peña’s When Angels Speak of Love, a portrait of Sheshebazzar Bayne, a Miami woman grieving the loss of her sister while also preparing for a new life. It’s lovely to watch how Peña mixes in down-to-earth slices of life with flashes of heightened aesthetic, from discussions with her mother to the depiction of her as a mermaid. 

From Queenie (2020), dir. Cai Thomas

By contrast, Cai Thomas’s Queenie is starkly realistic in how it explores the life of a 73-year-young Black lesbian seeking to apply for NYC’s first LGBTQ elder affordable housing development. Disguised as a portrait, the short is a subtle but scathing indictment of housing inequality, and how even the most inclusive efforts still manage to exclude the elderly and individuals with disabilities.

History, sexuality, and spirituality all come together in the best short of the festival: Vashni Korin’s You Can’t Stop Spirit. Centered around the Baby Doll Mardi Gras masking tradition, the short highlights a group of Black women as they dive into the traditions they hold dear. Beyond its compelling showcase of gorgeous outfits, umbrellas, and dances, the film is thoroughly moving in the way it allows these women to tell their stories. There is so much beauty in the rituals they practice, in the way they’ve built their own community, and in the way they embrace their identities while acknowledging the rich histories that came before them. It’s precisely this layered approach — present in so many of the films this year — that makes Third Horizon and their programming so necessary.

From You Can’t Stop Spirit (2021), dir. Vashni Korin

The 2021 Third Horizon Film Festival continues online and at various venues in Miami, Florida through July 1.

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Juan Barquin

Juan Barquin is a Miami-based writer who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim...