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Miami Film Fest:: Treasures in the Dark


"The sun is still shining", a visiting filmmaker groaned. "Will anyone come
to sit in the dark and see my film?" The answer was a resounding YES, as the
Miami Film Festival wrapped its most successful session in years this past

Re-energized by the leadership of former Sundance topper Nicole Guillemet,
the Festival clearly has tapped into a winning formula of international
premieres, American independent films and an impressive showcase of Spanish language cinema.

Screenings held at the historic Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in
downtown Miami, Regal Cinemas' swanky arthouse complex in South Beach and in other neighborhood cinemas brought out the crowds, even with South Florida
experiencing a warmer than usual winter week. The Festival is now one of the cultural highlights of the Florida high season.

Opening with the French romantic comedy Bon Voyage, directed by Jean-Paul
Rappeneau, and closing with Lars Von Trier's controversial Dogville, the Festival presented 15 films in its International Premieres section, including such prior Festival favorites as Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things (UK), Monsieur Ibrahim (France) starring screen legend Omar Sharif, Facing Windows, the latest film from Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek, I'm Not Scared (Italy) directed by Gabriele Salvatores and recent Sony Pictures Classics pick-up Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter And Spring by South Korea's Kim Ki-Duk.

Thirteen films from around the world competed in the World Cinema
Competition, including Golden Globe winner Osama (Afghanistan), Oscar nominee Evil (Sweden) by Mikael Hafstrom, Israel's Broken Wings directed by Nir Bergman, Cannes Film Festival winner Milwaukee, Minnesota (USA), German box office smash Good Bye Lenin, directed by Wolfgang Becker and Sue Brooks' Japanese Story (Australia) starring Toni Colette.

At the awards ceremony held on Saturday, February 7, the Grand Jury Prize for
Best Dramatic Feature went to Faouzi Bensaidi's A Thousand Months, a
Morrocan-French co-production. A coming of age story set on the last night of Ramadan, the visually ravishing film is a stunning breakthrough for first-time
director Faouzi Bensaidi. The Grand Jury Special Citation was awarded to Siddiq
Barmak's Osama, which is being released this month by United Artists (and was
inexplicably left off the list of the Foreign Film Oscar list). The Grand Jury
also awarded two Honorable Mentions, one to actress Anna Ovsianikova in Lidia
Bobrova's Granny (Russia/France), and one to Wolfgang Becker's Good Bye, Lenin!

Anyone visiting Miami immediately discovers that it is a city more tied to
Latin America than to the rest of the United States. Spanish is not only spoken
everywhere, but is often the first language you hear when entering a shop, a
restaurant or a movie theater. Appropriately, the Festival has an uncommonly
large number of Spanish language films on its slate, which brings out both the
diverse Spanish speaking community as well as the local "gringos".

The Premieres section alone included four Spanish-language films including
The Galindez File (Spain), a political thriller starring Harvey Keitel, Havana
Suite (Cuba) directed by Fernando Perez, South From Granada (Spain), a lush
story of pastoral life directed by Fernando Colomo, Take My Eyes (Spain), a
bracing drama about spousal abuse directed by Iciar Bollain, and the docudrama What The Eye Doesn't See by Peru's Francisco Lombardi.

For its Ibero-American Cinema Competition, the Festival presented ten films
from Spain and Latin America. Highlights included Jaime Rosales' intense
portrait of a serial killer in The Hours of the Day (Spain), the Rio Film Festival hit The Man Who Copied from Brazil's Jorge Furtado, the charming road movie Seawards (Uruguay) directed by Guillermo Casanova, the dark comedy Torrelmolinos 73 (Spain) directed by Pablo Berger and The Middle of The World (Brazil), a family drama from the producer team of Lucy, Luiz and Bruno Baretto (responsible for such classics as Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands and Bye Bye Brazil).

Winning the top Award in this Competition section was the energetic and witty
Nicotina from Mexico, directed by Hugo Rodriguez. In only his second feature
film, Rodriguez has gathered a stellar ensemble cast of eclectic characters,
including Diego Luna (of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame) and sets them wandering on an
erratic course until they collide.

Documentaries from around the world, with a special emphasis on films from
Spain and Latin America, were among the Festival's most favored selections.
Ranging from the Brazilian rapper opus Fala Tu (directed by Guilherme Coleho) to Sundance winner Born Into Brothels (USA), the section featured sixteen films in competition.

The Grand Jury Prize was awarded to The Story of the Weeping Camel, directed
by , Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falornia. Mongolia's first-ever Oscar entry,
the film follows three generations of Gobi Desert herders and their
scene-stealing camels. The film is to be distributed by Thinkfilm later this year. Laura Gabbert's Sunset Story (USA), an absorbing and often hilarious look at a retirement home for former radicals, was the winner of a Grand Jury Special Citation for Best Documentary.

Of local Florida interest were the documentaries Aileen: Life and Death of A
Serial Killer (USA/UK), co-director Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill's
update on the story of convicted Florida serial killer Aileen Wuornos, portrayed by Charlize Theron in the current fictional release Monster, and local celebrity photographer Bruce Weber's A Letter To True, a lovely visual ode to his beloved Golden Retriever dogs and the nobility of all animals.

Other major prizes included an Audience Award for Best Dramatic Feature to
Oscar nominee Mikael Håfström's Evil (Sweden), and a tie for Audience Award for
Best Documentary Feature between Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (USA), an
affectionate portrait of pioneering black actress Beah Richards directed by
actress-turned director Lisa Gay Hamilton (The Practice) and Silver Wings & Civil Rights: The Fight to Fly (USA), a historical portrait of the all-black fighting force known as the Tuskegee Airmen, directed by Jon Timothy Anderson. The FIPRESCI Critics Award was given to Japanese Story (Australia), by Sue Brooks.

The spirit of the Festival was best summed up by special guest Geraldine
Chaplin, on hand to present a special showing of a newly minted print of her
father Charlie Chaplin's classic Modern Times. "Art is based on our desire to
communicate….and filmmaking requires passion, obsession, and dedication", Ms.
Chaplin offered. "I am honored to be here in Miami surrounded by people who share that passion." Sun, sand and a passion for cinema.

By Sandy Mandelberger


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