Q&A with Ecuadorian-American Co-Founder of the Filmgate Interactive Media Festival – ‘Immersive Art is Here to Stay’

Q&A with Ecuadorian-American Co-Founder of the Filmgate Interactive Media Festival – 'Immersive Art is Here to Stay' belatina latine
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The art world is currently entering a new period. As the advancement of technology continues to take over, it is no surprise that creatives are tapping into it. From immersive art to AI, it almost feels like the future is here.  

During this month’s Art Basel in Miami, Florida, a city that is driving technological forces in all its senses, we witnessed how art has evolved – and how it’s adapting to society’s needs. However, the founders of the Filmgate Interactive Media Festival, Jose Jacho, and Diliana Alexander have been preparing for this moment for years.  

The Filmgate Interactive Media Festival celebrated its ninth anniversary this year and it’s far from finished. This innovative festival merges film and tech to showcase the beauty and intricacies of storytelling. Using extended reality, which has been present since before the Metaverse, allows people to enjoy multi-level experiences. 

The festival now has hi-tech exhibits, dome performances, creative labs, master classes, live music, and dance performances – and it welcomes people from all over the world of all ages. For an industry that wasn’t as accessible a few years ago, this festival is making it so access is at the forefront of their goals. In fact, most of its offerings were 75 percent free this year. To further illustrate how immersive technology within art is taking off, one of their guest speakers was Phylicia Rashad, the American actress who famously played Claire Huxtable. However, she is now a dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University and wants her students to become fully versed in the space where art and tech are set to thrive.  

As we prepare for its 10th anniversary next year, BELatina News spoke with one of its co-founders, Ecuadorian-American artist and innovator, Jose Jacho.  

Find our conversation below.  

Tell us about yourself. 

I was born in New York City and I’m a first-generation Ecuadorian. 

I arrived in Miami in my teens, in the 90s. So, I’ve been able to embrace Miami culture. I grew up as a filmmaker, making movies in South Florida. I started one of the first clubs down here in the scene. It was called the Indie Film Club. Somehow the promoters of these clubs would grant me permission to show my movies in their spaces after I would ask them. That’s how it started. At least me and the art scene. 

How did you see the interactive world unravel? 

When I saw the interactive world come in, it was 2011-ish. We started seeing the 360s and more. I was like, “hey, wow, the transition from film to this interactive immersive medium is going to be so easy for like a filmmaker, a storyteller, especially someone who is Latino.” I knew that there were a lot of things that oppressed Latinos and I felt this to be an outlet to showcase our culture, despite social class dynamics and other factors. 

How did the Filmgate Media Film Festival start? 

It was like a tag team effort to bring this to Miami. So, our first one was led with zero budget. I remember Diliana and I, we were kind of punky and interested in this space. I still can’t believe this happened. We had these expensive cameras. She sold hers. I sold mine, so we had like almost $8,000 or $ 7,000. We used that money to start our festival. Now, fast forward to 2022, and we’re getting sponsored, and people are giving us devices for us to use.  

What were people’s reactions to this interactive space back then? 

I mean, even to this day people say it feels like a whole brick on your face. But the funny thing was, a lot of the artists were coming from France and Germany. They were weaving stories through these goggles, these glasses, these 360 experiences, and virtual reality. The stories that were told felt human. It is human.  

So when those stories were coming out back in 2011, and I was looking around, I was like, “wow, nobody knows about this.” These experiences were only reserved for exclusive museums before. You had to pay a nice price to experience it. A working person, a middle-class person, or a low-income person didn’t have the means to go to these shows or have the luxury to spend a whole day at a museum and experience these things. 

After so many years, now the everyday person can embrace it and be part of the story and also be a catapult.  

What’s so great about this space? 

If you’re an artist, if you feel like something inside of you, you could be creative in this field. You could be one of these pioneer people just jumping on board. It’s also about the many experiences. For example, the speakers we bring in tell us stuff that’s coming up next year and within 5 years from now. So, if you’re one of those entrepreneur-minded people, your butt should be at these talks because it’s a great way to see the future. 

What’s changed since the beginning of immersive art? 

I saw the success coming from the get-go. I was like, “damn, wait till the technology catches up,” which it has. I was waiting for the prices to go down, which it has. The exclusivity that only boutique museums had, that’s gone too.  

How is the immersive world inclusive? 

A lot of times people, like those from the Latino community, are made to believe they must learn English to succeed. But not here. If you go straight to coding, then you’re good. Creating these experiences gives you access to be part of special teams, and be hired by bigger companies. You don’t even have to be a part of a big organization. You can make your own studio. There have been experiences where I’ve only met one artist. One artist created such a beautiful world. I come from a film background and film mostly is a collaborative effort. You need your cameraman, and your editor – it’s a whole ensemble to make one project. But it’s amazing how these immersive arts, this virtual reality augmented, can be designed by one person.

So, in terms of disparity, do I see it? I don’t see it anymore, because coding has opened up so many things. It is a good entryway for anyone to make their own project and be heard.  

How are women treated in this space? 

In the film sector, people have historically treated women as if there’s no place for them. And I’ve experienced it, first-hand. I’ve seen how people come up to Diliana and they think that she didn’t make the work possible. Meanwhile, we work together on projects. But I’ve always seen that. They thought I was in charge simply for being a man. People think I’m the boss, but she’s the one with the ideas. But in this sector of interactive arts and digital art, people just go straight to her. They know she runs stuff. 

What is the role of sponsorships in your festival? 

Let’s take Microsoft, for instance, who have been so kind. They came at the tail end because usually, well, it does take us almost a whole year to prepare for the next year’s festival. So, as soon as we’re done with this one, December 6th, we start working for next year. But Microsoft came in and told us they wanted to help out with a whole day of talks. So, they were able to give us a whole day of panels. They were instrumental in helping set up these panels. We’re talking to people from big agencies, creative directors, and people who are actually creating hands-on. And if you look at the faces of these panelists, it’s not just the same white male American. They look like me. They look like us. This space is about representation and it’s evident as more of these events take place.  

We learned that the Filmgate festival highlights a new region every year. Who did you spotlight this year? 

This year, we’re spotlighting Korea and Germany. So what that means is that we’re going in. We went into their region to see what virtual reality stories they got, like the best they got, and we brought them here to Miami so people can experience it. 

Any words of advice for BELatina News readers? 

Don’t be afraid of this new technology. I know sometimes the commercials seem cringe when they advertise the products and things like that, but give it a chance. Look for the artsy ones. There are story-driven ones. And if you’re a binge-watcher on Netflix or HBO, trust me, you’ll find a home within VR and storytelling. 

Without a doubt, immersive art and augmented reality are here to stay. 

As for Jose Jacho and Diliana Alexander – remember those names.  

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