Film Reviews

Film on the Downbeat

This is the time of year when the weather starts to infect everyone in Miami. The city's tempo slows down and a whole lot of hustle and bustle gets put off till mañana. But here's a not-so-early warning for you jazz and film fans: Hustle over to the Absinthe House in Coral Gables for The Miami Jazz Film Festival, a screen and tunes extravaganza that blows through town so quickly, you can miss the entire thing if you don't, well, bustle.

The seventh annual fest, one of Miami's unsung gems, is sponsored by another of Miami's jewels, WDNA-FM (88.9), which broadcasts some of the best Latin jazz programming in the country. As has been a festival mainstay in the past, this year's fest features loads of bio pictures of jazz greats and lesser-known artists. The festival opens on Friday, August 30, with Jazz Seen (aka Listen With Your Eyes), a portrait of jazz photographer William Claxton. The film's director, German filmmaker Julian Benedikt, will be on hand for the U.S. premiere. Other U.S. premieres include Chico Hamilton: Dancing to a Different Drummer, Saturday, August 31; John Lee Hooker: That's My Story on Sunday, September 1; and Stephane Grappelli: A Life In The Jazz Century, that closes the fest on Thursday, September 5. But that's not the end of the lineup: Teddy Edwards, Denis A. Charles, Jimmy Scoot, and Anthony Zawinul all get screen time in feature-length or near-feature-length programs.

The documentaries grab the main focus, but it's the welcome mix of live jazz with the film programming that make this year's event a treat. Check out the Florida premiere of El Trombón De Bomba: William Cepeda's Jazz, directed by Louise Ernst, on Sunday, September 1. Both Ernst and Cepeda will present the film, followed by live music from Los Pleneros del Sur. The Grappelli film will be followed by club jazz from local violinist extraordinaire Federico Britos Ruiz and his ensemble. And how about Jam With Nicky, a free live program for children featuring the Nicole Yarling Quartet, which will lead the kids into the art of jazz improvisation, followed by the screening of vintage jazz cartoons.

The festival also includes historical and archival film presentations including Swing Under the Swastika, a troubling look at artistic expression during the Nazi regime from veteran British documentarian John Jeremy. Mike Zwerin, the long-time jazz and pop critic for the International Herald Tribune, will be on hand to present Jeremy's film. The New York-based archivist/collector Henry Medina will show some rare, never-before-seen clips from his collection of Latin music films. And the Grammy Foundation Film Preservation Project serves up recently restored footage of jazz greats Bud Powell, Dave Brubeck, and Louis Armstrong.

Several favorite biopics from previous festivals make their return engagements: The Miles Davis Story, Billie Holiday: The Long Night of Lady Day, To The Count Of Basie, The World According to John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk: American Composer each get another unspooling. The fest also includes a number of jazz animation and live-action shorts from Canada that pepper the program lineup.

Veterans from jazz film festivals past report that the opening and closing nights are usually packed. Festival fans and those just looking for a cool party on a hot night would be advised to grab those tickets while they're available.

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Ronald Mangravite

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