There's one movie screening at Miami Film Festival's Gems that you'll want to see more than any other: Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy and the Heron.
Ten years after his last film, The Wind Rises, the legendary Japanese director famous for masterworks such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, came out of retirement to make the animated epic, originally titled How Do You Live. Likely to be Miyazaki's last film — the Studio Ghibli cofounder is 82 — the producers deliberately neglected to promote the movie before its release in Japan on July 14, betting on the director's unrivaled reputation as the so-called "Disney of Japan." They won that bet to the tune of 7.75 billion yen ($54.5 million) and counting.
GKids, the film's American distributor, declined to repeat Ghibli's unconventional marketing strategy. They've already released a teaser trailer ahead of the film's December 4 release, even though Miyazaki intended for the audience to go into the film almost completely blind. The screening at Gems, which runs November 2-5, is not just a chance to see the film early and avoid spoilers — arguably, it's a way for American fans to honor the director's original creative vision.
The Boy and the Heron may be the biggest jewel in Gems' crown, but there are plenty of treasures to be had during the mini-film festival, designed to give Miamians a taste of prestigious, award-winning films from around the globe ahead of awards season. The 2023 edition marks one of its biggest lineups ever, with more than 20 films screening between Miami Dade College's Koubek Memorial Center in Little Havana and Silverspot Cinema in downtown Miami.
"I think every single film in Gems is an A+ movie," says Lauren Cohen, director of programming at the Miami Film Festival. Cohen, who was still finalizing the lineup at the time of writing, traveled to the Toronto International Film Festival, the most important event of its kind in North America, in September to source films. "I do everything I can to negotiate with distributors and agents. They're really eager to be a part of Gems and have the film featured in the lineup."
Perfect Days. Starring Koji Yakusho (Cure, 13 Assassins) as a kindly janitor living in Tokyo, the film was directed by Wim Wenders, the celebrated German director famous for classics such as Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Gems also will feature the Florida premiere of this year's Palme d'Or winner, Justine Triet's crime drama Anatomy of a Fall. However, another film from France, the country's official Oscars submission for this year, may steal its spotlight. Set during the belle époque, The Taste of Things stars Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Chocolat) as a master chef whose lifelong romance with the owner of her restaurant takes a complicated turn. Initially titled The Pot-au-Feu in English and La Passion de Dodin Bouffant in French, the film marks a return to form for Vietnamese-French director Trần Anh Hùng, who previously made a film adaptation of Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood. Decorated Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's latest, Fallen Leaves, will also screen, along with films from Mexico, Italy, Argentina, and other countries.
Although Gems hosts international films every year, one wouldn't be wrong to notice there are more foreign films than usual being floated for Oscar consideration. Hollywood studios have pushed back or withheld major fall films, from blockbuster Dune Part II to Oscar contender Poor Things, due to a historic double strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), during which guild members refrained from promoting their films. Both unions had decided to strike to fight for an equitable agreement with the studios over streaming residuals and protection from AI-driven threats to their labor. Although the WGA ended its strike last week after nearly five months, winning concessions from the studios on residuals, AI, and requirements on the size of TV writers' rooms, SAG remains on strike as of this writing.
The double strike was less of an issue for the few large independent studios than the major corporate studios that are a part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), including Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount, and Sony. The indies, including A24, whose Everything Everywhere All at Once won Best Picture at this year's Oscars, and Neon, which earned Best Picture in 2020 with Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, had agreed to terms with the unions before the strikes, leaving them and their actors and writers free to promote their films. That may be part of why Gems was able to secure A24's Dream Scenario, starring Nicolas Cage as a mild-mannered college professor who suddenly begins to appear in the dreams of everyone on Earth. Cohen says Cage, who was honored at this year's Miami Film Festival in March with an award from Variety, delivers "one of his best performances ever" in the film directed by Norwegian Kristoffer Borgli.
"It's a wild movie about social media and mob culture, and I think it's gonna be very interesting for people to talk about."
attracted protests from theater patrons, was engineered by disgraced city commissioner Joe Carollo, who is facing calls to resign after a civil trial jury found him accountable for abusing his power to harass local businesses. Carollo claimed he felt the theater was better put to use as a visitors center; he even offered the space to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, which rejected the idea out of disinterest. Rather than being used to screen movies, the building currently hosts an exhibition on Celia Cruz.
MDC, which also runs the Miami Book Fair and the Museum of Arts and Design, doesn't seem too bothered. María Carla Chicuén, the college's executive director of cultural affairs, sees Gems as an opportunity to grow the Koubek Center's offerings, including children's book readings, dance and theater performances, and live music.
"They've been offering wonderful programming to the community and beyond," Chicuén says. "We hope to enhance and expand this programming by hosting film festivals, including regular screenings and talks."
While Gems is still finalizing programming details, at least one event has been confirmed: an eight-course culinary experience to accompany The Taste of Things. The complete program can be found at miamifilmfestival.com.
Tickets for Miami Film Festival's Gems will go on sale for Miami Film Society members on Friday, October 6, and to the general public the following Friday, October 13.
Miami Film Festival's Gems. Thursday, November 2, through Sunday, November 5, multiple locations; miamifilmfestival.com.