Beyond ‘Moonlight:’ This Miami filmmaker has more stories to tell in Liberty City

Faren Humes is a Miami filmmaker who worked as a location manager for the game-changing, Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.” But she doesn’t want Liberty City’s cinematic story to stop with that film. 

She’s been working on her own film “LIBERTY” and she’s developing it from a short film into a feature. It’s part of the Oolite Arts Cinematic Arts Residency, and the film will touch on even more of the neighborhood’s stories as the Liberty Square Rising project continues — and as more changes come to the area. 

As a native Miamian who spent plenty of time as a kid in Liberty City and connecting to the arts at a young age at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, Faren hopes her film can be another way to “preserve our stories and our history for ourselves so we can learn from that and build off that.”

How Faren got into filmmaking

Faren said she always had a connection to the arts because her father is an artist. She took dance classes and played piano growing up in the 305. She also participated in programs at the Cultural Arts Center. But she didn’t decide to pursue filmmaking until her senior year at the University of Florida.

“All through undergrad I was majoring in TV, broadcast news, and my very last semester I decided to change my major to film,” Faren said. 

That decision took her to Florida State University’s grad program and ultimately brought her back home and into Miami’s filmmaking industry.

She credits Miami filmmaker Andrew Hevia with helping her make some crucial connections when she first returned to Miami. And it was working on Terence Nance’s film “Swimming in Your Skin Again” that helped her build some key relationships. 

“That’s where I met a lot of the production staff who worked with me on ‘LIBERTY,’” Faren explained.

And Nance’s film was produced by the Borscht Corporation, the arts collective that played a major role in making “Moonlight” a reality.

Her inspiration to create “LIBERTY”

Speaking of “Moonlight,” Faren was working as the location manager on that film when she first got the idea to tell her own story. She started thinking about the narrative surrounding Liberty City and the residents in Liberty Square.

“I started forming relationships with people there, and I love them and care about them,” Faren said.

Liberty Set 2

Faren also said she doesn’t worry much about comparisons to “Moonlight,” and she isn’t really surprised that they might happen. But she also notes that this is a much different story.

“I think it’s kind of inevitable given my connection to the film and just how massive ‘Moonlight’ was for Miami,” Faren said. “I also realize that they’re two very distinct films and two very distinct perspectives on this community.”

The short film version of “LIBERTY” centers on a character named Milagros and her relationship with a friend, Alex, as Milagros is forced to move away when her section of Liberty Square is torn down to make way for a newly renovated housing complex.

“It focuses on what that displacement does, and it just looks at them,” Faren said of the characters in the short film.

And now that she’s part of the Cinematic Arts Residency, she’s excited to use the additional resources to build on her “homage to Liberty Square.” 

What she hopes people take away from the film

Faren said she wants to paint a fuller picture of the people who have called Liberty Square — and Liberty City — home for decades. 

“I’m interested in the people there, the community members there, and what all of the big-picture, systemic, outside forces are doing there and how they affect them,” Faren said. 

She also hopes to tackle a series of questions through her work:

“Questions that I ask myself are: ‘So what now? Where do we go from here? What is the way to empower ourselves for the best outcome right now? And what does the future look like for us right now? What forms of agency can we enact, right here, right now, with ourselves, together.” 

In answering those questions, she doesn’t want to shy away from any aspect of life in Liberty Square.

“I’m looking at the grandmothers, boyfriends, and girlfriends who might not have as much contact because maybe they’re on probation, and these are the rules we have in public housing,” Faren said. “I’m looking at the community’s relation to the security guards there and the police in the community, and also looking at the transience in the area — who’s coming and who’s going and how does that affect them.”

“I’m venturing into these things in the most intimate ways, and I want people to have an understanding of the value systems of this place so we can understand the ramifications of discarding that.”

This story has been updated to correct a quote and clarify additional information.