Aspen, Sundance, and Tribeca may be the best-known U.S. film festivals, but none of them has the commitment to South Florida exhibited by the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF). The homegrown event has expanded into a year-round programmer of films designed to resonate with Miami audiences, and this October's Gems Film Festival — a teaser of sorts for the main MIFF event in March — is no exception.
The decidedly eclectic four-day minifest takes place October 13 through 16. As a special treat for film fanatics and music devotees alike, Gems will present two spectacular rock 'n’ roll documentaries — Gimme Danger, director Jim Jarmusch’s film about the Stooges, the iconic '60s punk band that launched Miami resident and self-mutilating frontman Iggy Pop to international acclaim; and The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé: A Trip Across Latin America, which documents the veteran rockers’ recent tour of Latin America and their historic free concert in Cuba, the first by a major rock band since Castro's revolution. Both films carry the distinction of being Florida premieres.
Thom Powers, the festival's senior documentary programmer, says the films were chosen in part for their ties to South Florida.
"They bring fresh perspectives to rock 'n' roll icons,” he says. “In the case of The Rolling Stones, filmmaker Paul Dugdale shows the band's team struggling with the logistics and diplomacy to mount the show in Havana as it comes dangerously close to being canceled. In Gimme Danger, the esteemed director Jim Jarmusch conducts probing interviews with Iggy that are funny, frank, and reflective. The film is packed with performance footage that depicts Iggy at his energetic best and drug-addled worst. Although Iggy always had a knack for self-sabotaging his chances at bigger breakthroughs, this film reminds us why he’s been such a lasting influence on musicians for 50 years. Iggy has been a Miami resident for nearly 20 years, and I think Miami’s Latin American communities will love seeing the Rolling Stones traveling the continent.”
Powers, whose career in film has included work with HBO, PBS, New York's IFC Center, and the Toronto International Film Festival, joined the MIFF team five years ago at the urging of the film festival's senior executive director, Jaie Laplante. Powers says these documentaries are the latest embodiment of the mission the the two launched together.
“[Jaie Laplante] was passionate about growing the presence of documentaries in Miami and reached out to me,” Powers recalls, citing the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom and Dawg Fight by hometown director Billy Corben as two of his favorite films he has presented.
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“Jaie wanted to create an event at a different time of year from our annual March festival that would enable us to bring a different crop of films to Miami audiences,” Powers notes. "The programming seeks to serve a wide variety of Miami audiences. I love that it’s centered at the Tower Theater in Little Havana and plays a part of that neighborhood’s thriving cultural scene.”
Powers mentions that Olé Olé Olé will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival September 16 and that Gimme Danger world-premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and will have its North American premiere in September in Toronto. Happily, Powers' extensive connections have paid off.
“This is a case where I can use my relationships from my other jobs to secure screenings for Miami that would be hard to get if I wasn’t able to start the conversation early,” he says.
Gems Film Festival
October 13 through 16 at the MDC Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St., Miami. Tickets will go on sale to Miami Film Society members exclusively Friday, September 16, and the general public Thursday, September 22. Tickets for the opening-night film and cocktail reception cost $50 for the general public and $40 for Miami Film Society members. Tickets for the Gems Night Gala Party cost $85 for the general public and $50 for Miami Film Society members. All other screenings cost $13 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for members and students. Call 844-565-6433 (MIFF) or visit miamifilmfestival.com/gems.