in 21st Miami International Film Festival

by Peter Rainer

This year’s Miami International Film Festival was under the new sponsorship of Miami Dade College, and the audience turn-out was quite strong – especially when one considers that the sun shone almost continually throughout (January 30-February 8). Previous Miami festivals tended to heavily favor Spanish-language movies, for obvious reasons, but this year’s line-up was more eclectic, with films not only from Latin America – many of which were featured in the Ibero-American Cinema Competition – but also from France (due no doubt to the influence of festival director Nicole Guillemet, in her second year) as well as from South Korea, Bhutan, Denmark, Germany, Iran and Afghanistan. The closing night film was Dogville, all three hours of it – an interesting choice considering that usually closers are fluffy. It’s gratifying to recognize that Miami need not be a parochial festival with a narrow Spanish-language focus.

The city itself is exciting, a people watcher’s paradise. (The models descend on the city during the winter months). The press and talent were situated on South Beach, with easy access to the beach and within a mile’s walking distance to most of the theaters. The showpiece theater, the Gusman, is in downtown Miami, and it’s a grand old movie palace, ornately decorated – a great place to see movies the way they were meant to be seen. This was where the tribute to Hector Babenco took place, followed by a screening of Carandiru. The onstage discussion with Babenco was informative, if a bit lengthy – the only time I observed the Miami audience to be unruly was when things dragged on and people in the audience began to clap, trying to move things along. Babenco was lauded as a filmmaker who not only put Latin American movies on the international map (with Pixote) but who also, with Kiss of the Spider Woman, was involved in one of the first truly independent-from-Hollywood hits. Babenco said he had carte blanche when he worked in Hollywood, but he seems focussed now on making movies away from America.

Because I had to see competition films, I was unable because of scheduling conflicts to see some of the interesting films outside of competition, especially the documentaries, which are always a stand-out at this festival. But word was strong for “Havana Suite”, Fernando Perez’s film about 24 hours in the life of Havana; and Born Into Brothels, about Calcutta child prostitutes. (directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman). In competition, Japanese Story was the jury winner, a powerfully conceived movie by Sue Brooks that expressed very well the shock of loss. I also admired Osama, and after a slow start, thought that the Russian film Granny, about a dispossessed grandmother, was moving. Good Bye, Lenin!, which was highly touted, I found over-rated – too allegorical in ways that didn’t always make emotional sense.

Geraldine Chaplin (whose former husband Carlos Saura is a Miami fest favorite) was in Miami to present major awards; Modern Times was also screened. Her presence lent a classy festival an extra touch of class.