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Miami, Mi Amor

Miami, Mi Amor

Miami, Mi Amor

by Anthony Kaufman

While storms and tornadoes swept through Miami earlier last week, ripping
trees from the ground and leaving 85,000 people without power, the Miami
Film Festival
continued rolling with nary a glitch, countering with a
couple sunny days and a manageable total of 26 feature films screening over
its ten day run. Beginning on the tail-end of Sundance and in direct
competition with the rising Rotterdam fest, Miami, now in its 15th year, is
in a tough spot as most industry professionals are either recuperating
after Park City or out for more abuse in the Netherlands. But Miami exists
less as a market type of festival and more “for the love of film” as its
motto decrees as well as for its important contingent of Spanish language
films playing in this most Latin American of North American cities where
one billboard declares, “This is NOT America.”

As along as Miami doesn’t secede from the Union, the city is still a part
of the United States and for Spanish-language filmmakers, this fact is
essential; for it is often their first crossing into the much coveted U.S.
marketplace. The man responsible for constructing this bridge is Nat
Chediak, founder and director of the festival, who runs the event like an
extended family reunion, the charismatic father always ready to give
personal anecdotes about the pains and joys of exhibiting international
films for the last 25 years. “I’d like to think it has a niche of its own,”
says Chediak, “We’re not interested in being larger than anyone and by
that, I think we have an advantage. We enjoy the fact that as a reflection
of the city in which it takes place, there is a marked emphasis on quality
Spanish language cinema.”

Three Spanish language films stood out from the pack, grabbing the
attention of critics and audience goers: “Martin (Hache)” a
Spanish/Argentinean co-production written and directed by veteran director
Adolfo Aristarain which screened at the New York Film Festival last year —
its bitter and powerful portrait of relationships has been likened to the
work of Cassavetes; “The Good Life” coming from the Directors’ Fortnight at
Cannes is a Louis Malle influenced, imaginative coming-of-age first feature
from established Spanish writer, David Trueba; and Montxo Armendariz’s
Secrets of the Heart,” this year’s Spanish entry for Best Foreign Language
film — a more subtle and assured story of innocence lost (the boy actor
beat out Trueba’s young star for the Goya, Spain’s Oscar equivalent).

Armendariz’s “Secrets” received the Miami Film Festival’s first award in
its 15 year history, the Audience Award. Although many of Chediak’s
supporters have encouraged him to include prizes in his festival, it has
taken him this long to give in. “I was one of the most vocal opponents for
awards,” admits Chediak. “The only reason why I was swayed was that I was
shown that it is a good thing for a film to receive that kind of a boost
and it is a way to get the name of the festival out into the world.”
Chediak also didn’t want “the friendly atmosphere” of the festival to be
“tampered with.” Rather than depend on the personal whims of a jury,
Chediak found a positive compromise in the Audience Award and at a festival
where enthusiastic audiences are its main attraction, the award seems apt.
“The reason that I’ve presented six films here,” says Spanish director
Ricardo Franco (“Back Roads“) “is because the reception is very warm.”

Along with Armendariz’s heartfelt film, every Spanish language feature in
Miami has yet to receive any U.S. distribution and judging from the scant
number of distributors in attendance, sadly the best Spanish language
directors to come to America may well have to wait another time. Chediak
offered this slap of cynicism at a Filmmaker’s Forum (one of a few
disappointing panels scheduled throughout the festival), “English language
programming still commands the lion’s share of the market. A program or a
film in the English language is bought or paid 20 times what a foreign
language film is sold for.” Many of the filmmakers, however happy to be at
the festival, felt this unfortunate reality. “There is roughly one Spanish
film distributed in the U.S. every year,” said Trueva, “I think that in
itself, should tell you how difficult it is to open a film commercially in
the U.S.” And Argentine director, Eduardo Milewicz (“Life According to
“) just back from L.A. meetings after a successful debut at Sundance,
agreed with other filmmakers on the panel that dubbing their films into
English was not desired, but if it meant U.S. distribution, they would
agree to it.

Although 10 of the 26 films are Spanish or Spanish co-productions, one of
the French film’s main protagonists is Spanish (actually, Catalan) and
David Mamet’s latest has “Spanish” in its title, there is still more to be
found in Miami. Chediak’s contributions extend internationally, “Everybody
knows we were the first to introduce the work of Pedro Almodovar and
Fernando Trueva [Oscar winner “La Belle Epoque“], but we were also the
first in the U.S. to show the films of Atom Egoyan and Lasse Halstrom. So
everybody has us pegged for the Hispanic flair, but that is only part of
the story.”

Along with “Secrets of the Heart,” Oscar entries from Russia (the
distributionless “The Thief” ), France (“Western“) and Norway (“Junk Mail“)
also screened to satisfied houses. A favorite for audiences was the Russian
film which was a hot competitor for the Audience Award, a beautifully
photographed, heart-tugging narrative that indicts the Soviet heroism of
years past. Other favorites were “Niagara, Niagara” written and directed by
the Shooting Gallery’s Bob Gosse (cousin to Hal Hartley) whose actors
received a standing ovation from the Miami crowd and first time British
filmmaker’s comedic tale of unemployment, “Shooting Fish“.

Before each screening, the Miami Festival trailer reminded us, “For the
Love of Film” and it is this spirit that infuses the festival with a
welcome and non-competitive ease. With weekday screenings only two per day
and all the films reeling in the Gusman Center, a restored movie palace
from the 1920’s, complete with twinkling stars on the ceiling and live
organ music, there is an added touch of simplicity and classic cinematic
charm to the event. “I think that 25 years after I showed my first movie to
paying audience,” states the proud Chediak, “there is a good deal of film
culture in this town and my work has not been done in vain. There is no
other way to explain, for example, 1,700 people turning out to see the
latest Antonioni. Better yet, with people actually liking it.” If there is
one thing certain about the Miami Film Festival, it is that the audiences
here are enthusiastic and welcoming of new work from around the world; what
remains to be seen is whether Chediak’s non-competitive showcase will catch
the eyes of journalists and distributors looking for the next Almodovar or

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