Cinematic Sprawl

There was a time when film festivals were the preserve of places like Cannes, premiering and honoring the top films of the season while adding a dollop of prestige in the process. Not anymore. With the birth of the indie film movement in the 1970s, and the emergence of foreign film industries from Iran to Tibet, there's suddenly way more films being made than cineplexes to show them in. Now everyone with a screen and a projector can declare themselves official, pick from a plethora of non-Hollywood fare, and put on a film festival.

It's no different here in South Florida. Name your favorite ethnic group and there's bound to be three days of celluloid celebration in its honor at some point in the calendar year. Brazil, Italy, Israel, Cuba, Gay/Lesbian, all have their day in the dark, along with the granddaddy Miami International Film Festival. And while this may be a boon to local cinefiles, there's still a challenge for each festival to distinguish itself in the face of so much competition. For the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival, or FLIFF, they've decided to go big, as in length, as in the longest film festival in the world, capturing a bit of notoriety in the process. "We have the certificate from Guiness here in the office," says festival founder and director Gregory Von Hausch. With 150 films spread over five weeks, there's more sprawl to the festival than a west Broward suburb. And the spread is geographic as well, with several FLIFF mini-festivals scheduled for outlying locales like Delray Beach, Weston, and here in Miami. The bad news is, with 150 films, any festival would be hard-pressed to find that many consistently strong offerings. Which is also kind of the good news: There's bound to be some real gems.

For the Miami portion of the festival, the eight films presented are a mix of documentaries and world cinema features, starting with Cuba: The 40 Years War, at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, October 14th. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the documentary follows two Cuban-American veterans of the Bay of Pigs, Alfredo Duran and Mario Cabello, as they travel from Miami to Havana for an international conference on the 40th anniversary of the 1961 invasion of Cuba. There's great footage of a heated Brigade 2506 meeting showing Cabello, one of the founders of the Bay of Pigs Association, being expelled for his traitorous decision to travel to Fidel's island. There are also insightful interviews with key U.S. players at that time, like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Robert Reynolds, director of the CIA's Miami office, as well as a cameo by Castro himself.

Following Cuba at 9:00 p.m. is the Italian feature Liberi, which translates as "break free," something 20-year-old Vince is trying to do. Escaping the doldrums of his small town life and the troubled relationship of his parents, Vince moves to the seaside city of Pescara, only to have those same problems follow him there. A bit on the precious side, the film earns points for realism and some clever dialogue.

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John Anderson