Miami International Film Festival 2010 goes for the little guy

Miami in recent years has become a capital of the arts. There's Art Basel, which draws collectors from around the world. Miami Book Fair International attracts America's — and Latin America's — top writers. And Winter Music Conference brings the globe's best-known DJs.

But the Miami International Film Festival, which begins this week, has never quite gained the Olympian status of those events. Why? It's not that there are too many venues. MIFF has five, which seems like a lot, but well-respected Telluride includes six, two of which are pop-up theaters in high schools. Nor is there an overwhelming number of films. This year, the festival's 27th, 115 movies will be screened. That compares to 200-plus at Switzerland's Locarno fest.

The real problem might be rooted in changing visions. MIFF founder Nat Chediak — whose focus was on quality, not quantity, screening only a few dozen films — resigned in 2001, and he's been followed by a series of directors who have attempted to mold the festival into a launch pad for homegrown talent or, more recently, into an Ibero-American Sundance.

Now we have festival director Tiziana Finzi, who was hired in 2009. She's an insider from Italy with a reputation for discovering new talent. Her plan: to use her proven good taste and wide-reaching connections to make MIFF a world-respected festival of contemporary cinema. "I accepted this job as a challenge to bring my taste — cutting-edge, radical films — to this town, a beautiful place where people come for enjoyment, big parties, and holiday and not to see a Russian or Chinese movie."

Her choices can be eclectic. Included in this year's picks is Trash Humpers, the latest from Kids director Harmony Korine. In it, senior citizens, well, hump trash. Then there's City Island, a movie centering on a dysfunctional family and starring local boy and festival friend Andy Garcia. Perhaps the most unexpected film in the lineup is David Lynch's Eraserhead, the 1977 cult classic deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress. Old-school weirdness is apparently in this year.

In fact, the 2010 selections are some of the best ever. Two things stand out: the youth of the directors — many are younger than 35 — and the international quality — 45 countries are represented. Even in Miami, Spanish-speaking films do not overwhelm the international offerings. Among our favorites — reviewed in these pages — are a British story about soccer and friendship, an Iranian docudrama on censorship, and a Brazilian tale of terrorism. If that list seems too disparate, remember the words of Walt Whitman: "I am large, I contain multitudes."

What follows are some of the less ballyhooed and more interesting selections. Enjoy.

Trash Humpers: March 11 at 8 p.m. at Bill Cosford Cinema (University of Miami, Memorial Bldg., Coral Gables; 305-284-4861) and March 12 at 10 p.m. at Regal Cinemas South Beach (1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-6766). City Island: March 12 at 7 p.m. at the Gusman Center (174 E. Flagler St., Miami; 305-372-0925). Eraserhead: March 13 at 8 p.m. at Cosford.

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Looking for Eric

Eric (Steve Evets) was once a spry young man who met the love of his life at a swing dance competition. He's now a graying, slouching postman, slowly losing his mind and stuck caring for two teenage sons. He's so miserable that his fellow postmen stage a little self-help visualization session. It triggers Eric, a rabid Manchester United soccer fan, to begin hallucinating about Eric Cantona, a British superstar footballer who plays himself in this film. In an imaginary rendezvous with his hero, Eric regains his zest for life and pursues the woman he deserted. He also takes better care of himself and his two sons — who have become amateur gangsters; one son goes as far as pistol-whipping Eric in the head. But as he regains his confidence, he enlists the help of friends to sever his sons' gangster ties. The scene can be described only as a Guy Debord-situationist-style flash mob of a hundred mask-wearing, club-wielding Manchester United fans.

Looking for Eric is the creation of Ken Loach, one of the UK's most important directors, whose realist films have tackled unsexy subjects such as labor rights and homelessness. And while this work studies working-class Britain's gun-loving youth, it's an unexpected comedy in Loach's downbeat oeuvre. The camaraderie among "mates" is jovial, while Cantona is an unlikely life coach.

The film, which opens the festival, was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes and won a British Independent Film Award. In it, Loach is able to turn both the overdone British heist movie and soccer hooligan culture on their heads through a hilarious romp in which a regular guy survives hitting rock bottom and begins living again. Amanda McCorquodale March 5 at 7 p.m., Gusman Center

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Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats

In this rare Iranian entry to MIFF, Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi takes us through the underground music scene in Tehran, where all Western-style music is prohibited. Based on real people, places, and events, the film follows Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad of the indie band Take It Easy Hospital (yes, a real band) as the members attempt to leave home to play a concert in London. They're escorted by a smooth-talking linchpin of the black market, Nader (Hamed Behdad), who promises to find them passports, visas, and additional bandmates.

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