Fest Your Eyes on This

This year's Miami International Film Festival promises much more than the kind of quirky, unforgettable films you may not be able to catch at your local multiplex. This year, you can expand your cultural experience by drinking in amazing musical performances, educational discussions, and all the enjoyable hubbub that makes a festival, well, festive.

Psalm 81:16 reads: "He would have fed them also with the finest of the wheat, and with honey out of the rock I should have satisfied thee." Activist and singer Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon found herself inspired by this biblical promise, the contradiction of a sweet, nutrient-rich, natural delight flowing from an unyielding element. She founded her African-American female a cappella singing ensemble in 1973, and so began a unique musical journey. The six singers in Sweet Honey in the Rock wear their heritage with pride on their ornate and colorful sleeves. After 30 years of leading the ensemble, Dr. Reagon retired, but the group's journey continues. At the world premiere of acclaimed director Stanley Nelson's documentary Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice, filmgoers will learn about the turbulent history of this Grammy Award-winning act. Afterward, these awesome ladies will put on a live show. Their performances are renowned for genre-defying brilliance, blending all the rich evolutionary byproducts of African music. Chanting, ancient lullabies, blues, gospel spirituals, jazz improvisation, rap, and reggae all are united with hand percussion instruments to create songs that speak of history, love, and justice.

The REEL Education Seminar Series allows cinephiles a special opportunity to learn from those they admire most, and in some instances, to meet the subjects of the documentary films they have just seen. Jean Rouch: A Celebration of Life and Film brings together a venerable panel to discuss the legacy of this legendary French filmmaker. A Woman's POV gives female filmmakers a forum to share their experiences with the industry. Quentin Tarantino aspirants can glean information at How to Get Started as an Independent Filmmaker, and would-be Michael Moore types can learn a thing or two on DOC-Day, which boasts a full roster of panel discussions devoted to nonfiction film production. The Big Picture: Theatre of Truth promises films that tackle global problems without offering saccharine solutions, paired with important lectures from film directors and pundits. After La Sierra, an unvarnished look into the lives of teenagers surviving in a Medellín barrio during the heat of Colombia's civil war, the film's directors and UNICEF Senior Advisor Manuel Fontaine will discuss the effects of Children & War. What Remains of Us reveals the results of Tibetan nonviolence in the face of violent subjugation, and audience members will be honored by a visit from the film's subject, Kalsang Dolma, alongside John Ackerly, the President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

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Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik