In two tag-team events that made Mexican mariachi music seem hip, had guests drinking frozen Patrón cocktails out of glowing Wet Willie's-style vats, and drew The Real Housewives of Miami away from their, uh, house work, the Miami International Film Festival celebrated its official opening last night at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts and the DuPont Building. (Kind of ironic that just yesterday I said the culture-rich MIFF would render you immune to reality show bullshit. Alas, sometimes I'm wrong.)
The night kicked off with a red carpet event outside the Gusman, where Mariachi Gringo, one of the festival's most anticipated films, later made its world premiere. (Check out my full review here.) Some of the cast members, many of whom were flown in from Mexico, stopped to give television reporters an interview. As though they were real celebrities, The Real Housewives also took a turn in front of the cameras.
Once inside the beautiful, old-style theater, festival director Jaie LaPlante took the stage to personally thank sponsors (American Airlines, Lexus), partners (Miami Dade College), and co-workers (Andreas Castillo), before introducing soulful Mexican singer Lila Downs.
Downs is one of Mariachi Gringo's most captivating actors; she plays a respected mariachi musician who takes Ed (Shawn Ashmore, Iceman in the X-Men movies), a pasty Kansas native and aspiring mariachi, under her wing. She and her authentically dressed mariachi band treated guests at the Gusman to a powerful, operatic performance before the curtain went up on Gringo.
During the movie, the audience was heard to laugh out loud at the film's cute-funny moments, and offer extended applause at the conclusions of many of the musical numbers - especially Downs'. The expressive songbird definitely got a whole lotta Miami love last night!
There was a question and answer session with the directors and cast members after the film. Unfortunately, certain members of the audience (particularly the ones who raised their hands) failed to understand the question -- not comment -- and answer format. As a consequence, much of the short time allotted for the Q&A was dedicated to silly people gushing about how the film was "subtly gay" or how they met one of the star's relatives twenty years ago in Mexico. This shit is what your blog is for people! Some of us have real questions! (Yes, I am bitter that I didn't get called on.)
After having our picture snapped in the Lexus photo booth (Village Voice writer Michael Musto was in line right ahead of us), my friend and I headed out to the street, where we were greeted by yet another mariachi band on our way to the after-party at the DuPont building right across the street.
And what a party it was! The space was huge, and every corner was filled with more goodies to gorge on. In keeping with the movie theme, a huge table offered popcorn concoctions in flavor mixes like "Chinese Take Away," named after another of the festival's highly anticipated films, which combined curry powder, sliced almonds, coconut, sugar and salt. Other options involved basil, marshmallows, garlic, and cheese. Also available for noshing were hors d'oeuvres from AltaMare, Largo Bar & Grill, and Meat Market, among others.
Patrón's decadent contributions included an immense wall of tequila slushy machines, glowing with bright florescent lights from within; and an elaborate interactive photo shoot, where guests starred in professional-looking promotional party photos. There was a team of designers on-hand to polish each party pic.
Stars of the featured film were all at the shindig; here are some shots of stars Martha Higareda, who plays the female lead in Gringo, and Lila Downs, schmoozing with guests.
Actors from many of the other festival films were also on site. Here's Andres Crespo, star of Pescador, an Ecuadorian comedy that follows Blanquito, an average fisherman whose life changes when a boatload of cocaine washes up on shore.
And of course, The Real Housewives of Miami were on the scene. Here's a shot of three of them standing near the stairway, pretending to carry on a normal, casual conversation while three cameras are aimed at them and a stream of guests either gawks or walks duck-style across the "set" to get to the other half of the party. Barefaced reality, indeed.
Though the party was slated to end at 11:30 p.m., the dance floor was still hot when we left after midnight. The never-ending river of free Monster energy drinks and 2-ounce energy shots can't be solely responsible -- I think people just didn't want to bail on a good artistic vibe.
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From the theater to the tequila trough, excitement was definitely high at the MIFF's opening night festivities. I hope this film fever stays with Miami art lovers through the next nine days, during which we'll experience the remainder of the festival's 103 selected flicks, some of them for the first time in North America, some for the first time in the world.
If you missed the opening night bash, sucks to be you. But the festival is far from over. We'll be keeping it "reel" with updates, reviews, and recommendations on a daily basis, so check back often.