With 30 years of festivals in its past, the Miami International Film Festival will mark the start of its fourth decade with some changes. It's been a gradual growth process to bigger and better things since festival director Jaie Laplante took the helm of the festival in 2011.
"Last year was the 30th year, which was really about looking back at our history," said Laplante following a news conference Tuesday morning on the Miami-Dade College Wolfson Campus that included not only new spotlights on two new countries (Germany and Mexico) but also local filmmakers. "Now we are in our fourth decade, and we can really look forward and create lot of new memories so that in our 40th anniversary we can celebrate things that we're doing now," he continued.
Laplante first took the stage to announce the high-profile gala events, which will include films starring Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Andy Garcia, Woody Allen and Sofia Vergara as well as a career tribute to John Turturro. Lapalnte then offered a slide show highlighting competition films and the return of recent new categories including the popular Mayhem category, specializing in the Midnight film variety, and Lee Brian Schrager's Culinary Cinema, which pairs food-centric films with specialized dinners at high profile restaurants.
The highlight came when he invited several local filmmakers to the stage and asked them them to offer a single word describing their feelings about being a part of MIFF 31. True to the revolution of the Miami film scene, they could hardly hold themselves within the restriction. "Super excited" said Ronnie Rivera, director of International Noise Conference 2013. O Cinema's co-founder and director of Cherry Pop: The Story of the World's Fanciest Cat, Kareem Tabsch was even more colorful with: "Fuck yeah."
Though MIFF has gradually come to embrace local film talent, it's never given it such a prominent presentation. Monica Peña's surrealistic documentary Ectotherms will have its world premiere at the festival. She said, "By championing local filmmakers, MIFF situates our work within broader trends in independent film. And the independent film industry seems increasingly intrigued by the distinct point-of-view of Miami's filmmaker-- a Miami Wave, a Miami School, supported locally at every level, from funding to production to exhibition at our city's world-class festival."
Indeed MIFF is an event global in scope, and this year it will host 92 feature films and 28 short films from 38 countries, participating in competition and out. It will also feature many venues familiar to veteran festival-goers.
The Festival kicks off on Friday, March 7, with its usual gala night at the Olympia Theater at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts featuring the North American premiere of Elsa & Fred directed by Michael Radford. Starring MacLaine and Plummer, it's a remake of a 2008 Spanish-language hit that follows a pair of widowed neighbors and their blossoming relationship. With your heartstrings effectively pulled, the gala party once again unfolds at the Dupont Building, across the street.
The Career Achievement Tribute Award will be presented to Turturro on Sunday, March 9. He will present his latest directorial work, Fading Gigolo, which stars Sharon Stone as well as Allen and Vergara. The Festival's annual Awards Night gala features the World premiere of Rob the Mob directed by Raymond De Felitta and starring Andy Garcia. It all concludes with Awards Night, once again at the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami on March 15.
In between there are a multitude of film events big and small worth checking out. One includes the much-buzzed Sundance film Web Junkie, one of the films highlighted in this post. One of the greatest working contemporary horror directors, Ti West, will attend the festival to present his latest work, The Sacrament. Cannes-award winner from Mexico, Heli will make it's Miami debut. There's also War Story by Mark Jackson, which stars Catherine Keener and Ben Kingsley. For more star power, there's James Gray's The Immigrant, which features Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner and Marion Cotillard.
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Finally, one personal favorite, Chilean author/director/film critic Alberto Fuguet's enthralling film essay Locations: Looking For Rusty James, which is in the documentary competition. It's reserved but passionate tribute to Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish, one of his greatest films lost in the shadows of the Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now. Splicing together scenes of the original black and white 1983 film starring Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke with footage shot in the film's Tulsa, Oklahoma setting, Fuguet documents a pilgrimage, eschewing over-analysis for a personal appreciation that any fan who knows film can relate with.
The festival takes place at various venues across South Florida, including the Gusman, the Regal South Beach, Paragon Grove, Coral Gables Art Cinema and the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Tickets for Film Society members will go on sale Feb. 7. Tickets for the general public will be available Feb. 14. For the scores of other films worth seeing, check out the full lineup at miamifilmfestival.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.