Time on His Side

The Miami Film Festival's new director tells his critics to wait and see

David Poland is huddled with his cell phone, cinching the deal on one more film. The new director of the FIU Miami Film Festival thought he'd lost Chicken Rice War, a version of Romeo and Juliet set among Singapore food stands. The quirky romantic comedy won the audience award at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival last fall, giving hope to hip young director CheeK (Cheah Chee Kong) that his movie would see commercial release well before the Miami fest. "Everybody thinks they're selling their movie tomorrow," Poland observes, happy that this time the delay worked in Miami's favor.

Since taking the reins from beloved festival founder Nat Chediak five months ago, Poland has been working against the clock to heighten Miami's profile while appeasing long-time festival supporters disgruntled with the transition. "There hasn't been enough time for us to hold the hands of the existing community the way we should, at the same time we reach out to a new community," he worries.

Encamped on the patio of the National Hotel, Poland meets with the press to explain the many changes he brings to the nineteen-year-old festival, including expanding the location from the Gusman Center downtown to the Regal and Colony theaters and this official hotel site on South Beach. Adjusting his black leather jacket, the fast talker in his late thirties reels off the list of complaints festival stalwarts have unleashed. On the Bud Boedecker retrospective: "People are complaining about a 51-year-old movie"; on Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish: "People are saying, “You're showing a twenty-year-old flop'; on emptying the theaters between shows: "Apparently people used to leave their stuff there and watch four or five movies in a row"; on selling rush tickets for empty seats immediately before each film begins: "People are saying, “You mean I can't come twenty minutes late?'" And all those documentaries! "We're showing twice as many films as in the past," Poland points out. "So if you want the same festival you knew in the past, you can find it. But you can also find something else. People have to realize we're not killing their memories."

Clockwise from top left: Singapore's food-stand feature, Chicken Rice War; local film Pure, from Susan Braun (last-minute replacement for Manfast, with our own Tara Solomon!); out of northern Florida, the supposedly controversial documentary about a rape in Gainsville, Raw Deal; and from Spain, Anita No el Tren;
Clockwise from top left: Singapore's food-stand feature, Chicken Rice War; local film Pure, from Susan Braun (last-minute replacement for Manfast, with our own Tara Solomon!); out of northern Florida, the supposedly controversial documentary about a rape in Gainsville, Raw Deal; and from Spain, Anita No el Tren;
La Tropical
La Tropical

Poland also has been besieged by critics at Florida International University, the festival sponsor since 1999, who contend he is not doing enough to justify the school's investment. "You can't have a major film festival out on Tamiami Trail," he concedes. "But by growing the festival, we are creating more opportunities for students and faculty."

Indeed Poland sees his mission as adding professionalism and prestige to what has long been a very good, local festival. "I want it to be everything Miami is," he dreams. "Controversial/fun, sexy/family, Cuban/Jewish, gay/straight, tuxedos and shorts." Some day, he believes, the film-savvy might mention Miami in the same breath with Toronto, Telluride, and Sundance. "A lot of people with a lot of hopes," says Poland, himself chief among them. "I think the festival could fulfill them. It might take two or three years...."

Some days later Poland is reminded why Miami is not Toronto, film festival or no. He's back on the phone to hear the scheduled Miel Para Oshun (Honey for the Goddess of Love) has fallen through, owing to the mysterious machinations of the Cuban government. In a one-line e-mail, the ICAIC (the Cuban film institute) claims that neither the film nor director Humberto Salas will be available for the Miami Film Festival after all. "That's completely false," protests Poland, who has been in close communication with Sundance, the last festival to show the film. "The frustrating thing is that I was hoping we would slowly be able to build a relationship that would work for the Cuban community here and bring over films that need to be seen," Poland sighs. "But this is just another indication we can't work with [the Cuban government] or trust them." Some hopes time cannot realize. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado

Redbaiting the Cowboys
In some cultures wars don't just end, they die down for a while and flare up again. That's the case in Hollywood, which is still suffering the lingering effects of the Fifties' Red Scare. The movie kingdom's civil war never was bloody, but it certainly was brutal. When Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began to investigate Communist influence in Hollywood, the town split down the middle, between right-wing "patriots" (the studios and their allies) and the left-wing "freedom lovers" (the writers and their supporters). The internecine struggle was so bitter that lifelong friendships split apart, never to be reconciled.

That was the case of the great filmmakers Carl Foreman and Stanley Kramer, whose sad story is depicted in Lionel Chetwynd's documentary, Darkness at High Noon, which chronicles Foreman's downfall from, and partial return to, Hollywood power. Narrated by Richard Crenna, Darknessfollows Foreman's early days as a young writer working with the peripatetic Kramer, who had landed a fat contract with Columbia Pictures. The pair were an exceptionally productive team, turning out intense, socially conscious pictures from Foreman's scripts, which garnered seven Oscar nominations: Champion, a gritty boxing picture; The Men, which dealt with disabled veterans (and gave Marlon Brando his first film role); Home of the Brave, a simplistic but blunt attack on racism in the military; and the notable José Ferrer version of Cyrano de Bergerac.

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