Unlike the rest of America, Miami’s March Madness has nothing to do with tall men in short pants — well, not officially anyway. No, instead of college basketball, our town gets down with sound (Winter Music Conference, Ultra Music Festival), style (Miami Fashion Week), sloops (Miami Grand Prix), and, for the first time ever, design (Mod Miami). We even throw our own block party (Calle Ocho), and we invite the whole wild world.
But for all the fun we have in the March sun, Miami also makes this a month to go mad about movies all over again. We lure some of the best and the brightest the cinematic world has to offer, and we watch, with bated breath, as they wow us with their screen stories. Yes, we’re talkin’ about the Miami International Film Festival, now in its XX year.
The Miami International Film Festival (which hereafter will be referred to as MIFF) kicked off on Wednesday with a special free screening of The Sound of Mumbai, a heartwarming musical directed by Sarah McCarthy which chronicles a night in the life of a group of ghetto kids who get a chance to sing The Sound of Music with a classical orchestra. It seems a little insensitive to say “the slums are alive with the sound of music,” but the film’s official site uses that as its theme, so we’ll not quibble. That MIFF decided to bring the film to town and show it out under the stars in Lincoln Park surely means they’ve no objection to the pun either. Besides, what better way to launch another Fest than by screening a family-friendly film?
From there on out though it appears MIFF is geared to the more mature moviegoer, and if you happen to be multi-lingual all the better. Known far and wide for its Iberocentric slant, MIFF returns with a veritable onslaught of Spanish-speaking cinema. There’s Oscar and Goya award-winning director Fernando (Belle epoque) Trueba’s Chico & Rita, an animated whirlwind of sound, light and color backed by Bebo Valdes’s Cuban-American jazz, which kicks off MIFF with the proverbial bang.
There’s Fernando Perez’s historical epic Marti, The Eye of the Canary, which follows “El Apostel” during his more formative years, and David Sorano’s Canary Island set With or Without Love, which rewrites the myths of Cupid and Eros (both making their East Coast premieres). There’s Carlos Cesar Arbelaez’s The Colors of the Mountain, which pits a boy against the brutal realities of Colombia’s FARC, Jon Garano’s and Jose Maria Goenaga’s For 80 Days, which places one Basque woman in the midst of another in a love that might not dare speak its name, Alex de la Inglesias’s The Last Circus, which pulls apart the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel Hendler’s Noberto’s Deadline, which plays the theatre stage of Montevideo.
Of course there are other languages under the sun, and MIFF seems determined to represent at least a little something special from each and every one, whether it’s Danish and Swedish (featured filmmaker Susanne Bier’s In a Perfect World), French (Francois Ozon’s Potiche and Michelle Leclerc’s The Names of Love), German (Philip Stolzi’s Young Goethe in Love), Greek and Turkish (Varna Marinakis’s Black Field), Persian (Vahid Vakilifar’s Gesher), Hebrew (Shlomi Elder’s Precious Life), and even Icelandic (Fridirik Thor Fridiriksson’s Mamma Gogo).
There’s even a healthy helping of good ol’ English, some of it British (Gabriel Range’s I Am Slave and Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader), and the rest of it American (Aaron J. Selgado’s Magic City Memoirs and Mario Van Peebles’ Things Fall Apart). In fact it is the two U.S. films, both of which are making their World Premieres, which really has people talkin’ about this year’s MIFF. In Selgado’s flick, which Andy Garcia executive produced, three Miami high school friends wanna live out the hip hop video clips that have become the soundtrack to their privileged lives. We need not speculate how that turns out, do we? Mario Van Peebles on the other hand, who enlisted Miami’s-own Randall Emmett to produce, the tale turns on the talents of one Deon Barnes, played by none other than Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who’s gotta face an entirely different kinda fight for his life. With Ray Liotta and Lynn Whitfield co-starring, and Fiddy’s extreme physical transformation leaked all over the web some months back, Things Fall Apart promises to be one of MIFF’s biggest hits yet.
None of the above would be possible without an executive director at the helm, at this year MIFF’s got a new one. In this case it’s one Jaie Laplante, an Alberta, Canada native who spent half a decade running Miami’s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (which he turned it something of a solvent sensation) and another half allied with South Beach Wine and Food Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager, who he helped to launch the New York Wine and Food Fest. More deliciously, to some, Laplante also starred in Todd Verow’s take on Dennis Cooper’s Frisk, a film which caused as many folks to flee as it did to praise the courage it took to bring the book to the screen. That was a some time ago (1996, in fact), and since then Laplante’s also worked on the writing side of screendom too (adapting Bruce LaBruce’s unsweetened Sugar). Most importantly perhaps, Laplante cites directors such as Hitchcock and Almodavar as two of his all-time favorites, which means he’s got the eye of an auteur and the sense of humor of a city slicker, two very important components of you’re gonna run a film festival in a place like Miami.
Whether you’re one of those die-hard indie purists who won’t watch anything unless no one else has yet, or a more mainstream sort who likes its stars to skew a little offbeat, this year’s Miami International Film Festival will have something to wow you. Even if you’re neither, you’re sure to find a film worth whiling away an hour or two. All you’ve gotta have really if a belief in the power of movies to tell the kinda tale that can lift you up, smack you down or break your heart. In other words, the kinda stories we live, here, now, in this Cinemagic City.