La Schwette Vedette

Nicole Guillemet has proved that she can direct the Miami International Film Festival; maybe next year we'll be talking about the movies

Over the next ten days, memories of the festival as a cult of personality -- whether Chediak suave or Poland brash -- began to fade. Spurred by positive press and even more positive word of mouth, walk-in sales picked up steadily. By Tuesday, screenings at the additional sites in the Regal South Beach and the Sunrise Intracoastal in North Miami Beach began to sell out. By the end of the first week, the Gusman was frequently full -- and on a bad day drew at least 500 people. On the most basic level, not only did the films screen on time, but in what must be a Magic City first, the closing film actually started fifteen minutes early -- immediately after the close of the 7:00 p.m. awards ceremony. "We'll have to change the wording in the program next year," Guillemet observes wryly.

Two days after the festival ends, Guillemet is watering her plants. Wearing an ankle-length Indian caftan, the smell of the sea in her hair from her first trip to the beach since her arrival here last summer, she makes time for me even though she is ready to leave the festival behind for a while; she announces happily that she already has her ticket for a trip to Bhutan, in the Himalayas.

"I do my own self-criticism," she says, combing over details like the marathon panel discussions that exhausted audiences when they dealt with two feature-length films. "One film is enough," she decides.

This year Guillemet put on a financially successful, artistically satisfying festival in a very short time. But if she is ultimately going to succeed in her goal of garnering national and international attention for Miami by exploiting the "niche" of Ibero-American film, she will have to do more than suss out the right attention span of the average panel discussion participant. She will have to do more, even, than has been suggested in Rodriguez's post-festival report card: luring a few more ticket holders with better ads and program copy.

To win prestige for a festival based on Ibero-American film is to hitch the festival's fate to a struggling cinema. Guillemet is pleased with the pilot project Encuentros, a mini-film market that paired seven hand-picked Ibero-American filmmakers with distributors for dialogue and possible deals (see "Kulchur," page 18). And she's not afraid of the instability of Latin American film production.

"Look at Argentina now," she points out, "with so much economic problems they have 70 films in postproduction." Guillemet believes there is enough diversity in Latin America to keep the festival going. "For five years, Argentina will be a big supporter," she says. "Maybe one year there will be more film from Chile. There will always be a group of films just as appealing. I'm not worried."

And in the calm of the garden, it suddenly seems that there is very little to worry about at all. Guillemet grows wistful for her early days as co-director of Sundance fifteen years ago. "At the beginning of Sundance, filmmakers would artistically connect," she remembers. "Miami can offer a haven for filmmakers where they can connect with the audience and with each other. There's no magic [formula for success] here, but I hope this festival could become a platform for discovering talent."

And perhaps, next year, that talent will attract more attention than the festival's director.

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