The Miami Film Festival
by John Bernstein
Miami has a great film festival, and apparently they want the
world to know it. After the non-stop, dizzying pace of Sundance, the
comfortable inviting feel of the Miami Fest was a welcome relief. This
festival was truly for the film-lover. The minute I landed in South
Florida I could tell the difference. In an effort to woo us media
types, they pulled out all the stops. I was greeted at the airport by a
stretch limo, and put up in a palatial waterfront condo. Nice start.
After a pleasant encounter with the press office, guest relations
staff, and various festival volunteers, I made my way to the Gusman
Center for the Performing Arts for my first film. The Gusman, built in
1926, is an awesome sight. Elaborate Spanish turrets and towers play
host to ornate statuary and light fixtures-- all helping to create a
grand, yet comfortable atmosphere for 9 days of movies.
The only similarity to the Sundance experience was the
pre-screening voice booming familiar instructions to the audience,
"Please turn off your cell phones, and switch your beepers to vibrate."
Many times films were introduced by noteworthy journalists. Critic
and Roberto Rossellini biographer Peter Brunnette introduced the
Rossellini/Fellini classic "Open City," and shared stories on the
difficulties in getting the film made, and of the film's controversial
reception in 1946. After most screenings, a large majority of the
audience members stayed for question and answer sessions with filmmakers
attending the festival.
Miami's fest may not attract as many big-name directors and stars
as Cannes, Sundance, or Toronto, but the ones that do come are much more
accessible. At those other festivals, publicists whisk VIP's to and
from photo opps, interviews, press conferences, and other publicity
stunts. But in Miami, it's not uncommon for festival-goers to spend
some "quality-time" with participating artists. Hope Davis ("Guy," "The
Daytrippers") was a regular at festival events, popular Argentinean
actress Sonia Braga ("Tieta Of Agreste") greeted audience members who
attended her closing night film, and at the reception for the
anniversary screening of "Bonnie & Clyde," a lucky few joined an intimate
conversation with Director Arthur Penn, Screenwriter David Newman, and
Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons as they reminisced about working with
Warren Beatty and Michael J. Pollard, how the public (and Beatty) felt
about some of the sexuality issues dealt with in the film (and left out
of the film), and the casting of Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder in their
earliest movie roles.
Filmmakers were also among those taking part in the seminar series,
another popular aspect of the festival. Hundreds of people turned out
to participate in the festival's 7 seminars, highlighted by a spirited
debate on the state of independent film with panelists Mark Gill of
Miramax, indie film-guru John Pierson, NPR's David D'Arcy, publicist
Reid Rosefelt, and Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Michael Barker.
Aside from the seminars, and a few low-key receptions, the festival
staff tried not to schedule any events that would conflict with the
films, which of course was the focus of the festival. While Robert
Redford annually notes that "Sundance is for the filmmaker," Miami's
fest was obviously tailor-made for the film-goer. Even the festival's
slogan, "For the love of film," reinforces Festival Director Nat
Chediak's sensibilities. Chediak's passion for cinema was reflected in
the diverse and rich slate of movies that he, as always, almost entirely
hand-picked himself. The festival has a reputation as a showcase for
the latest in Latin American fare, but the program was well-rounded,
with works from all over the world. "Despabilate Amor" (Argentina), "Taxi"
(Spain), "L'Appartement"(France), "The Eighth Day" (Belgium), "Gabbeh"
(Iran), and "The Daytrippers" (U.S.A.) were just a few of the festival's
more popular films.
During the big closing night blow-out at Planet Hollywood in
Coconut Grove, it was obvious that Miami is proud of its culture, and
this 14 year-old cinematic event. While enjoying the food and great
live Latin music, the conversation kept coming back to the films, and
Chediak's knack for knowing his audience. An enthusiastic festival
volunteer may have put it best. "See great films from around the
world. Meet some cool people. Soak up some rays. Enjoy!" Now that's
a film festival.