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February 7, 2002 2:00 AM
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FESTIVALS: In With the New; Miami Film Festival Shifts Gears

FESTIVALS: In With the New; Miami Film Festival Shifts Gears

by Brandon Judell



(indieWIRE/ 02.07.02) -- "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones," Saint Therese once avowed. Too bad Nat Chediak wasn't listening.


Two years ago, the cigar-chomping founder of the then 17-year-old Miami Film Festival raved to indieWIRE about his new relationship with Florida International University: "This new FIU connection has allowed me to concentrate on programming rather than survival," said Chediak. "It's given us an institutional parent that makes it easier to do development for the event. At the very beginning when we initiated talks, they promised me complete autonomy and artistic freedom, and they delivered." He then laughed and took another puff.


This year there was no Chediak laughter to be heard, or any of his endearing tobacco fumes to be inhaled. The walking, bearded Miami landmark had been kicked out by FIU and replaced with David Poland, a single, deeply tanned, attractive film journalist and industry analyst who on opening night donned an expensive suit and loafers with no socks in sight.


But before Mr. Poland could take his first stride before his new public, Modesto A. Maidique, president of FIU, held forth on the changes he helped initiate:


"This year's festival has several innovations. First of all we have twice the number of films so that we can reach out to a much wider and varied audience. Secondly we're doing something different. Now we're showing films in different venues at different times. Each theater comes with a certain flavor. We have a very simple goal for this festival. Very, very simple. We want to become one of the great film festivals of the world."


The audience applauded whole-heartedly at this news.


President Maidique waited a beat and then continued: "We want the Miami Festival to be mentioned in the same breath as Telluride, Toronto, and Sundance. We're in the ideal place in the United States to have a great film festival, a film festival that combines all the traditions of the world and particularly the traditions of the Western Hemisphere."


So who is this Mr. Poland, formerly of roughcut.com, who will spearhead this transformation? To get a little insight, I had an iced tea with the new festival director a few days after the opening festivities.


"I haven't found the right wife," Poland shared once the drinks arrived. "I'm a person who is inherently monogamous. I would love to be married and have kids. I don't like coming home to an empty hotel room now. I'm getting old, and my father was 49 when I was born. I don't really want to do that to a child of mine. It's tough. My father retired when I was nine or so. He was rich but growing up even as a son of a retired rich guy is difficult. He was in the box and bag business in Baltimore."


But being alone has given Poland time to review submissions from across the country, something Chediak never bothered with. Accordingly, in the past indieWIRE warned you not to bother sending your tapes to Miami. That's all changed, as this year's fest was definitely open to indie docs, features and shorts. In fact, Poland discovered Eric Eason's hard-hitting "Manito" before Sundance did. He's even thanked in the credits.


Truly grateful, Eason showed up, along with several cast and crewmembers (including the hunky Frankie G.), at a screening to thank Poland for his support. "After we got our invitations to festivals like Miami and Sundance, we were able to go to outside investors and get the money to transfer the video to 35mm," said Eason. "As for distributors, we're hopefully getting a release in art houses across America and then the world."


The superb Irish entry, "Disco Pigs," a tale of neighborly love gone bonkers, was represented by its star Elaine Cassidy, who had flown in with her parents and was placed in a snazzy South Beach hotel which made her quite chipper: "It's great to have us come all this way with a film that I absolutely love and I think I always will," said Cassidy. "But I don't think I'll get much of a tan. Yet it's a joy seeing the sun, because it's such a novelty for me."


Tom Curran flowed in with "Adrift," his documentary about his late dad, his weightlifting sister and his commercial fishermen brothers. Poland discovered this doc at the IFP market.


"I was really excited to be coming here," Curran noted. "As for the message of the film, I don't know if you've been following this hockey dad trial. Well, I think this is a real crisis particularly within sports."


So "Adrift" could serve as a self-help film for raging sports dads? "Exactly," replied Curran.


Juan Carlos Zaldivar, whose "90 Miles" was one of the numerous personal documentaries and features about returning to Cuba, was also gleeful. "It means a lot to play here," Zaldivar said, "because here the feelings tend to be very boorish when it comes to dealing with Cuba. We played in Havana in December and won the Best Documentary prize. But Castro didn't give me the award." This was the 17th and possibly last film festival Zaldivar was attending with" 90 Miles." He's prepping for his next feature, "Violenta," which concerns a "Latino superhero whose powers come to full force when he's dressed like a woman."


Honey Lauren's full powers, however, come to full force in Doris Wishman's "Satan Was a Lady," when she's undressed as a woman. Not since The Mothman Prophecies has a picture made you so wish you were at home reading a book. Even Wishman fans might start turning to Bergman after this one. But Honey is still a delight with a riveting presence both on and off-screen. "I love going to festivals," she intoned with loveliness. "I don't know if you saw 'Men Cry Bullets.' That was a film I'm in that was kind of a festival darling a few years ago. With 'Satan,' I'm just proud of being in a Doris Wishman flick."


Other films of note: A ballsy revival of Francis Ford Coppola's "One From the Heart." (yes, it improves with time.); John McKay's "Crush," ("Four Weddings and a Funeral" meets "Beaches," starring Andie MacDowell); Ruth Behar's documentary "Adio Kerida" (a Jewish American searches for her roots in Cuba); Lech Majewski's magnificent "Angelus" (a comic, political hodgepodge in which a male virgin must be sacrificed in order to save the world); and Humberto Solas' "Miel Para Oshun" (starring Jorge Perugorria of "Strawberry and Chocolate" as a man who was kidnapped from Cuba by his father as a child and returns 30 years later to find his mother).


As for the festival itself, there was much chaos. Screenings canceled. Screenings added. Attendees didn't know what was happening. Volunteers didn't know either. "Adrift" had ten audience members, then was canceled by a false fire alarm. A restaurant's leaking pipes flooded the festival office. Total attendance was way down. And that was just for starters. But with a little suntan lotion, who cared? Next year will be Poland's real test - and who knows? Sundance East might just be around the corner.

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