Miami International Film Festival serves a cultural feast for cinema lovers

Arts / Article

Back for the 31st time, the Miami International Film Festival, presented by Miami Dade College’s MDCulture program, will unfurl 120 films over 10 days starting Friday, March 7, and running through March 16 at locations all over Greater Miami. It’s a rich smorgasbord of cinema from around the world.Related Link

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The festival opens Friday night with a screening of Michael Radford’s “Elsa and Fred,” starring Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine, at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts’ Olympia Theater. The festival comes to a formal close on March 15 with an Awards Night screening of Raymond De Felitta’s “Rob the Mob,” starring Andy Garcia. In between the festival will host films from 32 countries and award $61,000 in prize money to competing filmmakers.

$50,000 comes directly from support by Knight Foundation, which sponsors two of the festival’s signature competitions. The Knight Competition focuses on narrative films from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, awarding $40,000 in prize money to the winner. Meanwhile the Knight Documentary Competition, which focuses on international documentary film across many regions, themes and styles, bestows its winner with $10,000 in prize money. Among the 10 films competing for each prize are two world premieres: Marcelo Tobar’s “Asteroid,” about a pair of adult siblings in Mexico who are reunited after seven years following their parents’ untimely demise, and Jorge Duran’s “Memories of the Desert,” about a young Brazilian novelist who hitchhikes into the Chilean desert for seclusion only to become embroiled in a murder plot.

Among the five North American premieres and single U.S. premiere are “All About the Feathers”—from Costa Rican Neto Villalobos—the tale of a security guard who buys and manages a fighting rooster; Marcelo Gomes and Cao Guimaraes’ “The Man of the Crowd,” a Brazilian feature extrapolated from an Edgar Allen Poe short story; and Argentine Matias Lucchesi’s “Natural Sciences,” about a 12 year old who teams up with a teacher from her boarding school to track down a father she has never known. Rounding out the premieres are Patxi Amexcua’s “Septimo,” an Argentine thriller about a couple on the verge of divorce who are ensnared in a kidnapping scheme; Spaniard Mar Coll’s “We All Want What’s Best for Her”; and the French documentary “The Art Rush,” by Marianne Lamour, which looks at two art world professionals flummoxed by the rush of billionaire specialty collectors who dominate the current scene.

While themes involving the burden of unforgiving economic times and the encroachment of technology into far-flung and perhaps not terribly prepared places throughout Asia and Latin America are found in multiple films throughout film festival Director Jaie LaPlante’s program, it’s most significant trend seems to be the cross children are often forced to bear for their families and cultures. The 31st Miami International Film Festival teems with tales of children coming of age in difficult circumstances who must navigate adult choices before they’re ready.

Often these scenarios bridge gaps of class and region; The 12-year-old protagonist of “Natural Sciences,” who acts out in boarding school and is reaching the age when aspects of her past that have been hidden from her begin to take on importance, is noticeably bourgeois, as is Hector, the 15 year old at the center of the Mexican comedy “Club Sandwich,” about the sexual coming of age of a young man while his family is on holiday. Mateo, the title character in a Colombian film about a 16 year old who’s slowly and inextricably drawn into a life of crime in the Magdalena River Valley by his uncle, a paramilitary don, is impoverished, while Manena, the teenager at the center of the Chilean film “The Summer of Flying Fish,” is undeniably wealthy, her father a prominent Chilean landowner. Yet all of these films place their characters in situations that violate the unspoken mores of their classes or of the institutions they confront, be it the boarding school in “Natural Sciences” or the criminal underworld in “Mateo.”

Other highlights include retrospectives of contemporary German, Chinese and Mexican cinema; the Lexus Ibero-American Opera Prima Competition for first-time feature filmmakers; the Papi Shorts Competition, presented by Macy’s; and a series of themed programs revolving around Florida-based productions (Florida Focus), movies about food (Culinary Cinema), stark genre fare (Mayhem) and American regional work with an independent flare (America the Beautiful).

Brandon Harris is a lecturer in film at the State University of New York at Purchase and a contributing editor for Filmmaker Magazine.  

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