Festival Seating

Unfortunately, like many gifted filmmakers, Kusturica overindulges himself. Wonderful though the film may be, Underground's grandiosity pummels the viewer into submission. The film simply goes on too long. The cumulative effect of so many dazzling images piled atop each other is a sort of numbness, as if you've been bludgeoned with brilliance. Kusturica, the ringmaster of this fantastic circus, knows every trick but one -- when to quit.

While bringing quality films to Miami from around the world is what the Miami Film Festival does best, in recent years the seminars and special programs that flesh out the main event have risen dramatically in popularity. And with good reason. Last year's film critics' panel moderated by Harlan Jacobson and story-structure workshop taught by Columbia's David McKenna offered both entertainment and insight on a grand scale for an astonishingly low price -- nothing, to be exact. Jacobson moderates the criticism roundtable again this year (Saturday, February 3, 10:00 a.m.), and while he doesn't have any "superstars" (like Taxi Driver author Paul Schrader or Newsweek writer David Ansen, both from 1995's group) joining him this year, the radically divergent constituencies served by Variety's Emanuel Levy, the Christian Science Monitor's David Steritt, and NPR's Pat Dowell should make for some heated debate. And both James Ryan's character-centered screenwriting seminar (Sunday, February 4, 10:00 a.m.) and Barry Michael Cooper's (New Jack City) filmmaker's forum (Monday, February 5, 1:00 p.m.) should provide plenty of valuable tips for those considering (or already engaged in) writing a movie script.

No one with even a passing interest in making an independent film has a good excuse for missing John Pierson's discussion (Saturday, February 10, 1:00 p.m.), which goes under the same title as his recent Miramax/Hyperion book, Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema. Variety once labeled Pierson the "guru of independent film," and rightly so. Among other accomplishments, he produced Spike Lee's first feature She's Gotta Have It, sold the rights to the popular documentary Roger & Me, turned Clerks into a sleeper hit, and has had a hand in the successes of Slacker, The Thin Blue Line, and Amongst Friends, amongst others. If anyone can tell you what to do and, more important, what not to do when making an independent film, it's Pierson.

Traditionally the seminar program features a talk with the writer and director of the Miami Film Festival's opening-night offering. This go-round, noted author Guillermo Cabrera Infante fetes Two Much's Fernando Trueba (Saturday, February 3, 12:30 p.m.). I had the pleasure of interviewing Trueba two years ago when his Belle Epoque premiered at the Miami Film Festival, and then went on to garner acclaim as that year's Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Trueba, while soft-spoken, is a freethinker with a wry sense of humor -- as much a character as those who populate his films. Two Much marks a major departure for the Spaniard -- his first English-language film. It should be interesting to hear what he has to say about the film's making. Just don't expect any inside dirt on the Antonio Banderas-Melanie Griffith romance that ignited during filming here in Miami. Trueba's the kind of guy who deflects gossip with a shrug and a bemused smile.

The Miami Film Festival runs from February 2 to 11. All films show at downtown's Gusman Center, 174 E Flagler St. Tickets are available through the Gusman box office, 372-0925, or Ticketmaster, 358-5885. Seminars, unless otherwise noted, are conducted in room 2106 of Miami-Dade Community College's Wolfson Campus, 300 NE 2nd Ave. Admission to all seminars is free. For more information call 377-3456, or see our "Calendar" listings for a complete schedule of dates and times.

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