Some top transplants tell their story on film to kick off the season of Orlando’s multicultural FusionFest
By Steve Schneider
Short films starring 23 representatives of Orlando’s diverse ethnic and heritage communities were unveiled Wednesday, September 18, at the Fashion Square Premiere Cinema 14, as part of an event that marked the official launch of the second annual FusionFest multicultural festival this November.
Presented under the umbrella of this year’s Global Peace Film Festival, the shorts program – titled “MYgration” – spotlighted community leaders and other intriguing personalities who are living and thriving in Central Florida after leaving homelands ranging from Africa to Venezuela. Each subject had been matched up with a filmmaker and given free rein to tell their story to the camera, with one main stipulation: The final product had to be shot, edited and signed off on within an intense 48-hour period.
Filmmaker Omar Young won the screening’s Audience Choice Award for “The Art of Patrick Noze,” a profile of the Haitian-born artist and gallery owner. Noze’s struggle to assimilate to life in the United States – first in Brooklyn, and finally here in Orlando – clearly struck a chord with the audience. Other notable entries included Matt Wohl’s “Ptica,” in which actor Jac LeDoux (who described her heritage as Croatian gypsy) movingly recounted her journey to Florida from Boston to escape domestic abuse. Likewise inspirational was Jacob Centeno’s “Guyana Roots,” which saw music teacher Elizabeth Fullington explaining what it’s like to have to leave your personal assets behind and start all over in a new country where your accomplishments may not count for as much as you had hoped.
“For me, the MYgration story was the final healing of my journey, struggles and accomplishments of my sojourn here in America,” Fullington said in the aftermath of the screening. “As immigrants, we all come to the U.S.A. very focused. If, like me, you came with nothing because of the mandates of your country’s government, then you are even more determined … You have to literally reinvent yourself in a brand new world. Being a subject for the MYgration story helped me to pause, reflect, cry, laugh, breathe and finally face what I had buried.”
In addition to the film screenings, the Fashion Square event also acted as the “Grand Reveal” kickoff of this year’s FusionFest, showing the public what to expect when the two-day celebration of diversity returns to downtown November 30 and December 1, 2019. An exhibition of African drumming and a quick but energetic round of the Maori game Poi Rakau gave attendees a mini preview of the festival’s lineup of music, dance, art, food and other forms of cultural expression. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings declared his support of FusionFest with enthusiasm and authority; putting it all in context with further event information was Terry Olson, Director of Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs, who had originally brainstormed FusionFest and guided it to its debut last November.
“Seeing what vastly different backgrounds we have here and seeing the audience experience those differences through the personal stories was very satisfying,” Olson says of the Fashion Square screening. “Sitting down to watch some of the MYgration films in the air-conditioned City Hall rotunda at FusionFest will be a very rewarding time for festivalgoers. I’m so glad we are able to include the medium of film and the stories of our fellow Central Floridians in FusionFest.”
Last year’s inaugural FusionFest drew about 8,000 attendees, with the participating performers, vendors and volunteers representing more than 100 heritages. An even greater turnout is expected at this year’s edition, which will again occupy the Seneff Arts Plaza at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the Orlando City Hall Commons Plaza.
FusionFest has received the “Award of Excellence” at the Golden Brick Awards hosted by the Downtown Orlando Partnership, and won first place in the “Community Outreach Program” category from the Florida Festivals and Events Association.
The event is presented under the fiscal sponsorship of the Downtown Arts District and with support from Orange County Government, the Orlando Downtown Development Board at the Dr. Phillips Center.