Glamour, Grit, and Gall

Miami International Film Festival goes for the big picture

The mix is almost too much, but the mission is stunningly simple: The nation's largest community college once again is producing one of the world's most ambitious celebrations of the art of the motion picture, concentrating as much of the best as possible into what amounts to a glamorous orgy of screen gems. And so it is that the 23rd Miami International Film Festival, the crowning achievement of Miami Dade College's arts and community programs, boasts 117 films and 20 seminars in venues all over town beginning March 3 and concluding March 12. The scope of the program is vast, from Gusman downtown to the Cosford in the Gables, from the Tower Theater in Little Havana to the Sunrise Cinemas Intracoastal in North Miami Beach and the Lincoln Theatre in the heart of South Beach. There will be 10 world premieres and 34 U.S. premieres, adding up to one dizzying moviegoing experience.

"There are no perfect films," says MIFF artistic director Nicole Guillemet. "There is no perfect anything. But there are more films now, and many better ones. It is a good time for the movies."

But how can a movie fan handle all of this? Like the city and the college it calls home, the festival is at the crossroads of the Americas and in a good position to reflect an ever-widening geographical and cultural reality. But if the whole seems overwhelming, the accents too many, the viewpoints a kitchen-sinkful's worth, the details are at once rich and richly entertaining. And the way to get a handle on it all is to follow the festival's own multitrack train of thought: There are festivals within the festival.

Friends with Money
Friends with Money
Summer in Berlin
Summer in Berlin
The Lost City
The Lost City
Don't Come Knocking
Don't Come Knocking
Thank You for Smoking
Thank You for Smoking

Details

Presented by Miami Dade College March 3-12, with 20 film seminars and 117 motion pictures screened in these venues: Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami, Memorial Bldg, Coral Gables; Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, Miami; Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; Sunrise Cinemas Intracoastal, 3701 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach; Tower Theatre, 1580 SW 8th St, Miami. 305-405-6422.

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The entertainment value is high no matter how you slice it, and one random way to enjoy the extravaganza might be to simply pay attention to the glamorous gala premieres at the Gusman Center. This will be the place to catch what is becoming an annual event, beloved homeboy Andy Garcia's festival entry, which in 2006 means a first look at a love letter to Havana called Lost City — sold out the minute it was announced. (Possible extra screenings might be scheduled.) Gusman also is the venue where the whole affair opens and closes, with Argentine Eliseo Subiela's Heartlift and American Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Moneyacting as festival bookends. In between are what promises to be a thrilling Wim Wenders tribute and the premiere of his Don't Come Knocking (cowritten with Sam Shepard) as well as high-profile international offerings such as Carlos Saura's Iberia, Anne Fontaine's In His Hands, Andreas Dresen's Summer in Berlin, plus Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne's L'Enfant — the best-reviewed international film in the festival and the one whose omission from the Oscar pool has already caused quite a commotion.

Elsewhere in the festival, one can concentrate on documentaries or features, from everywhere or of specifically Iberoamerican provenance, or even on movies billed as "Touching Florida." Also offered is a healthy representation of women's work, although Guillemet claims "there is no such thing as a woman's sensibility when it comes to directors."

Or you could hone in on the films that reflect current global events, such as those spotlighted under MIFF's Big Picture banner. "We always have a Big Picture program," says Guillemet, who came up with a few especially challenging themes this year, including the death penalty, the growing opposition to the war, the effect of the war on children, and — the most original — a series called "The Banlieue in French Cinema: Stories from the Ghetto on the Outskirts." The French, it turns out, are different, and terms like inner city and suburb connote the opposite of their meaning in American English. Yet the plight and alienation of impoverished Arabs and Jews in these Parisian suburbs are inspiring a gritty and breathtaking response from Gallic filmmakers. From Mathieu Kassovitz's now-classic L'Haine(Hate) to the several French-made festival premieres about the boiling point of postcolonial violence and its aftermath, MIFF mines for gold in one of the world's unlikeliest multicultural quarries.

"You never know what you are going to find," says Guillemet.

Here are some of this year's festival highlights, a short checklist to scratch the glittery surface and get you going to the movies.

Don't Come Knocking: The centerpiece of MIFF's Career Achievement Tribute to Wim Wenders is the premiere of the German filmmaker's latest picture, written by and starring Sam Shepard, with Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, Gabriel Mann, Sarah Polley, Fairuza Balk, and the ageless Eva Marie Saint. It is billed as a road movie about missed connections and family ties, but with this lineup it is bound to be much more — and a sure sellout. The Wenders tribute also features a screening of his improbable international hit with a marked Cuban accent, The Buena Vista Social Club.

The Lost City: This one will surely resonate in Miami. Directed by favorite son, Miami Dade College alum, and international star Andy Garcia, it features an impressive cast that includes Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Tomas Milian, Steven Bauer, Enrique Murciano, Nestor Carbonell, Elizabeth Peña, and Lorena Feijoo, the exiled Cuban ballerina who is the closest thing to Alicia Alonso onstage today. Arguably the most touching aspect of this love letter to a once-gleaming metropolis is that its screenplay is the last work of Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the incomparable Cuban novelist who never quite overcame the heartbreak of leaving his beloved Havana.

Heartlift (Lifting de Corazón): Showing on the gala opening night, the world premiere of Argentina's entry in the festival's glamorous lineup tells the tale of a plastic surgeon whose midlife crisis may well have led him to the love of his life. Starring Pep Munné and Moro Anghileri, with María Barranco burning up the screen as the wife about to be dumped for a younger model, the film is directed by the celebrated Eliseo Subiela, whose close ties to MIFF make this opener one of Nicole Guillemet's happiest achievements. "We are so proud to work with him," she says, "with this brilliant, important filmmaker from Latin America. And this film is a work of love."

Friends with Money: This year's closing-night gala boasts the East Coast premiere of Nicole Holofcener's cult-fave-in-the-making about the scary similarities between the haves and the have-nots, measured with yardsticks ranging from education to bling. The Jennifer Aniston vehicle also stars Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Ty Burrell, and Scott Caan.

"The Banlieue in French Cinema": Highlighting a buffet of young screen talent from France, subtitled "Stories from the Ghetto on the Outskirts," this series may be the most intriguing of MIFF's Big Picture minifestivals-within-the-festival and features the prophetic L'Haine (Hate), a gritty 1995 masterpiece that opened the world's eyes to the brewing discontent and alienation in the housing projects that surround the City of Light. It's directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, who is currently onscreen playing Eric Bana's Mossad sidekick in Steven Spielberg's Munich. Newer explorations of the theme at the festival include Chantal Briet's heartwarming Alimentation Generale, a fresh take on the very idea of a convenience store with a ballsy French twist about Arabs, Jews, and the police; L'Esquive(Games of Love and Chance), Abdelatif Kechiche's hit high school comedy — inspired by the Marivaux classic — about an improbable romance in the burbs; Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche's new Wesh Wesh, Qu'est-Ce Qui Se Passe? (Wesh Wesh, What's Going On?), an acclaimed autobiographical tale of a young French-Algerian trying to rebuild his life after prison.

Sir, No, Sir: This regional premiere of David Zeiger's searing documentary explores the movement of GIs against the Vietnam War, with inescapable echoes of American fighting forces in Iraq. After the screening, the director — flanked by representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War and the South Florida Chapter of Veterans for Peace — will be on hand for a discussion billed as "Soldiers Question War."

Echoes of War: From the Netherlands, Joop Van Wijk's devastating documentary shows how children all over the world cope with the horrors of war and terrorism — the centerpiece of MIFF's Big Picture look at "Children Affected by War and Terrorism." Van Wijk's discussion following the screening will have a local angle, as the director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center joins him to explore the lives of children who have come here to escape political strife and worse.

The Gronholm Method: Directed by Marcelo Pineyro, this Argentina-Spain-Italy coproduction — they do make 'em like they used to, after all — goes TV's The Apprentice one better by following six job applicants and a management mole as they muddle through an application process inside a human resources department from hell. It's a comedy.

L'Enfant: Fresh from copping the Palme d'Or at Cannes, this highly anticipated picture from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne may prove to be a huge audience favorite. The story of a twenty-year-old and his pregnant teenage girlfriend explores the borders of morality, values, and disgrace, shamelessly asking viewers the pesky question: What would you do?

Thank You for Smoking: The East Coast premiere of Jason Reitman's dark comedy about a tobacco industry spin doctor features an indie heaven ensemble of actors, including TomKat's taller half, Katie Holmes; the luscious Aaron Eckhart; Robert Duvall; William H. Macy; Maria Bello; and Rob Lowe. When the smoke clears, this one could easily turn out to be a major hit.

Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorn Balkon): Receiving its East Coast premiere, this sort of Sex and the Stadt feminist comedy from Germany tells of an alcoholic single mother, her younger friend, and hot nights in today's Berlin. Yikes!

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