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Miami Fest shoots for high marks

Not counting The Cocoanuts 's Marx brothers, any fool can thrive in Florida during boon times. To ride a bust takes vision, though, which must be what the Miami International Film Festival has. For its 27th edition (March 5-14, 2010), the Festival has reportedly seen a 35 percent bump in advance ticket sales, and surely that makes it a seer.
The MIFF is produced and hosted by Miami-Dade College. With jobs down and campus admissions up, the only major film festival with such academic credentials may owe some of its current fortune -- including its $1.8 million budget -- to its tweedy trustee.

A suite of seminars, workshops and discussions comprise what Miami-Dade College President Eduardo J. Padrón proudly terms "educational opportunities."

Leavening the curriculum are 115 films from 45 countries. That may not seem much next to Palm Springs' 189 films from 70 countries or Seattle's 292 from 62. But MIFF veterans will recall an average of 26 titles per year from 1983 to 2001, when founder Nat Chediak programmed the slate through his nonprofit Film Society of Miami. The lineup and scope expanded not long after MIFF began its academic career, first under Florida International University until Miami-Dade College took over in 2003.

Entering her sophomore year as artistic director, Tiziana Finzi continues to take festival-goers on "a journey around the world" where multiplexes are unlikely to send them. Her nose for diversity and provocation is well suited to Miami's heavily Latino and international colony.

Looking for Eric raises the curtain opening night. Ken Loach's film about a middle-aged postman who receives life coaching from a soccer star features Manchester United supernova Eric Cantona playing himself.

The Festival closer will be Juan José Campanella's Argentine murder mystery, The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos), about a retired prosecutor who reopens a four-decade-old cold case. Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, it was recently nominated for a Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar. Another Oscar contender is Claudia Llosa's Peruvian mystical drama, The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada). Both films are sold out.

Miami native Andy Garcia will be represented at MIFF via City Island, a family comedy by Raymond De Fellitta co-starring Garcia's daughter, Dominik García-Lorido, and Julianna Margulies. Catherine Keener, also from Miami, returns home with Nicole Holofcener's Please Give. Like City Island, it too pokes at the domestic realm.

A different sort of family portrait looks at Pablo Escobar's eldest son. Nicolas Entel's Sins of My Father ranks among MIFF's documentaries with "must-see" buzz, alongside The Beatles on Record by Bob Smeaton and the US premiere of Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, by Academy Award laureate Brigitte Berman.

The festival will also screen Niels Arden Oplev's crime thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Its Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, aptly translates as "Men Who Hate Women," as does the bestselling Stieg Larsson novel from which it was adapted.

MIFF's competition categories include "Ibero-American," "World," "DOX," "Cutting the Edge" and "Shorts."
A "Cutting the Edge" entry whose reputation precedes it &mdash and which epitomizes the category's out-there spirit &mdash is Philippine kidnapping caper Kinatay. It earned Brillante Mendoza Best Director prize at Cannes last May. Florence Jaugey’s La Yuma, which makes its way to Miami in the Ibero-American segment, is the first feature in two decades to be filmed in Nicaragua.

Other MIFF segments are "Encuentros," "Florida Focus," "REEL Education Seminar Series" and the new "Diesel Online Shorts Competition." Then there's "Cinema 360º," a showcase for emerging independent filmmakers. It will present the international premiere of Children of God by Kareem Mortimer, anointed as one of The Independent magazine's “10 to Watch in 2010.” MIFF's first selection from the Bahamas outs that country's rampant homophobia.

Also screening under the "Cinema 360º" rubric will be the U.S. premiere of Moloch Tropical. Raoul Peck's satire about the making of a despot is also a visual reminder of Haiti before the earthquake.

This year's Career Achievement Tribute goes to Margarethe von Trotta, the German actress and director who pioneered feminist cinema in the 1970s. Together with a retrospective including Sheer Madness, Rosa Luxemberg and Rosentrasse, MIFF will screen her latest film, Vision, starring Barbara Sukawa as the 12th-century German author, composer and mystic nun, Hildegard von Bingen.

The 10-day Festival dangles five world premieres, 22 North American premieres and 14 U.S. premieres. Screenings and events will be held at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, the Regal South Beach, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami and Little Havana's Tower Theater.
Lucky thing Miami-Dade College runs a Festival campus shuttle.

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By Laura Blum

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