Really Big Show

The Miami Film Festival goes global

The buzz is golden, the word is out, and this festival is going to be big.

The opening night screening of Andy Garcia's Modiglianiat Gusman sold out so fast a second showing was added at the Regal Cinema in South Beach for the following afternoon. And so it goes all over town, from the Cosford in the Gables to Little Havana's Tower Theater and the Sunrise Intracoastal in North Miami Beach. Now in its second year under the direction of Miami Dade College, the Miami International Film Festival (beginning February 4 and concluding February 14) boasts the biggest lineup in its history. Tickets are moving furiously for 118 pictures from 47 countries, including a slew of world premieres and U.S. premieres as well as special events that range from the fabulous to the bizarre, from the deadly serious to the seriously giddy.

"It feels great," says MDC president Eduardo J. Padron, who pledges that the festival will continue at the nation's largest community college "as long as we get the community response we got last year, the response we already have been getting this year. As long as the community wants it.

Film feast (from left): Modigliani, Faithless, The Edukators
Film feast (from left): Modigliani, Faithless, The Edukators
More film feast (from left): Saraband, Man of the West, Body Confusion
More film feast (from left): Saraband, Man of the West, Body Confusion

"For us, it is a win-win situation," continues Padron, "for multiple reasons. First, we have our school of entertainment technology, and our film school is perhaps the best in Florida. The festival complements their academic programs in a significant way, allowing us to provide not just the festival for the community but also seminars and other special events for our students and faculty."

Then there are the movies. The 2005 MIFF is eclectic by any standards and pointedly appropriate for a city that is fast becoming the cultural heart of the Americas. It's not just that a renowned Cuban-American MDC alumnus stars in the festival's opening salvo. It is also that the categories abound with surprises and rediscoveries, with distinctive competition categories in Ibero-American Cinema and World Cinema, both in dramatic and in documentary features.

"It is not just the number of films. It is the quality of the premieres," says Padron. "You know, they don't give these films to just anybody. We have been able to do what we do because we have a lot of people with the passion, with the commitment to make things happen. And of course we have a director of incredible vision."

That would be Nicole Guillemet, the MIFF director who was recruited from FIU and has made the transition to Miami Dade in style. In addition to what amounts to several minifestivals within the overall program, the Sundance Festival alumna has scheduled a touching Liv Ullmann Career Achievement Tribute ("You need to see her as a director -- her one faceless role.") and a lineup of rarities in tribute to the revered cult documentary filmmaker Jean Rouch, who died last year. She is even managing to shake up her baby boomer audience by including Bob Rafelson's iconic 1970 Five Easy Pieces among the series of "Classic Films: Movies That Transcend Time and Imagination."

Is it a little soon to proclaim a classic to an audience that was there for its premiere?

"Thirty-five years is not so recent," laughs Guillemet, whose disarming French accent is thick as crme fraiche as she justifies the inclusion of Pieces as a "classic." "The film is such an event. I watched it again -- what an incredible story. So we invited Bob Rafelson to be on our jury, and we started to create an event. Karen Black agreed to come too. We are all totally part of a wonderful generation. So much happened. This is a tribute to those times."

For more recent times, Guillemet sees no limits. "We can move from the idealism of young people in the 1960s and '70s to today. Look at The Edukators," one of two films boasting a breakout star of last year's festival: Daniel Brühl. After the bittersweet German comedy Goodbye Lenin, the young actor is represented at this year's MIFF with both The Edukators and with a lovely piece called The Ladies in Lavender, where he costars with Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench. "He is really a young actor to watch," says Guillemet.

Chances are he won't be alone. The opportunities to discover talent from Spain to Colombia, Norway to Brazil, Hungary to Argentina, and Thailand to the United States are among the festival's sweetest pleasures. Political consciousness will be raised in the series "The Big Picture: Theater of Truth," not so much by intent as by happy accident: "You just look around and see which films address the big issues of our time," says Guillemet. "Last year we had films about women and violence. This year we have a film about Tibet (What Remains of Us), about a country's freedom. A film about Baghdad and about the U.N. Then I was surprised by how many films there were about children and war. I did not have this agenda. It just happened."

Much else has been happening with the festival. By Guillemet's design, there are a number of second-time directors represented, a big boost to developing filmmakers at a crucial time. "We show a lot of films that don't have distributors attached," she says, "and in that way festivals are playing a big role in developing that distribution." In that way, too, MIFF is letting South Florida in on the act of discovery, well ahead of the pack.

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