Miami Film Festival

Miami International Film Festival: An Interview With Bruce Weber

A last-minute addition to the Miami International Film Festival screening schedule, Bruce Weber's short documentary Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me is among the most locally focused films in this year's fest. And, for that reason, it could also end up being a lightning rod for debate. Already, we've got a little back-and-forth going here on Riptide.

Now, whichever way your knee jerks, it's probably best if you see Weber's doc in its entirety before making any critical assessments. The film will be playing -- alongside Spam Allstars: Fuacata! -- as part of the Florida Focus program on March 11 and 14. Plus, Weber will be attending the first screening. So, in the event that we miss any questions below, don't worry -- you've got another chance to get your answers.

New Times: When did you first visit Liberty City?

Bruce Weber: Surprisingly, the first time I went to Liberty City I was with Amy Winehouse and we were doing a fashion shooting for American Vogue. The amazing thing about going to Liberty City to do photographs for Vogue was to begin to understand what an important role the Haitian community of Miami plays in our beloved city. I was so taken by all the people that we met and loved what everyone was wearing! After the shooting, I decided that I wanted to buy Amy a gift, so I went to the Greene Dreams Shoe Repair (Miss Paulette's shop) where they also sell all of these amazing Black History t-shirts. I fell in love with the designs and the music playing from the local soul station on the radio. I knew I wanted to come back to this store and hear the music and meet the people and to get to know everyone a little bit better.

What exactly do you mean by the title Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me? 

I first went to Paris as young photographer because it was the place to go for some odd kind of freedom of expression with the camera. Today in most places you cannot walk around the street just photographing - people aren't that open to it anymore. What I love about the people in Liberty City is that they are so trusting when you are taking their picture. And I sensed this happiness that they had as I was photographing them. 

Some people have criticized your depiction of Liberty City as being romanticized. 

Let's put it this way, I returned once to Liberty City with Morgan Freeman and, as we arrived there, all the women started screaming, "Morgan I love you!" and he turned around and yelled back at them, " I love you too!" The funny thing is I don't think they were all women, if you get my drift. It made me see this little neighborhood in my adopted city a place as romantic the Île de la Cité in Paris. 

There's a dance sequence in the film starring Kenita Miller and a few other dancers. That's always been a debate in documentary film ... Do you think staged elements can and should exist in non-fiction film? 

The minute you grab your camera and start shooting, that's already a moment where you are staging something. So the moment you take the camera out of its case, there's a bit of non-fiction going on. But what's going on in my head has always been fiction. But the everyday life of Liberty City's neighborhood is like a musical - sort of like a modern day version ofPorgy and Bess. My dream for this film is for people to realize how hard it was after the riots to rebuild this community. As Diana Ross once sang, "Ain't no mountain high enough." 

You made Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me last year on January 9, 2009. It was a day that saw both the MLK parade and Obama's inauguration. Why did you want to document that particular moment in that particular place? 

The amazing thing is that on that very special and historically important day the people in the neighborhood were so trusting to have us join in and have us be a part of their own unique celebration - we wanted to capture what those two culturally and historically significant days meant to them, to Liberty City, in their community in these times. 

Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me, Dir. Bruce Weber, 16 minutes, HD. Screening Thursday, March 11 at 9 p.m., Tower Theater (1508 SW 8th St., Miami), and Sunday March 14 at 7 p.m., Regal Cinemas South Beach (1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach). 305-405-MIFF;

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S. Pajot