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Miami Film Festival's Heart And Soul


Friday, March 13-----In many ways, the heart and soul of the Miami International Film Festival is its Ibero-American competition, which focuses on dramatic features by first or second time directors from Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Not only is the competition prize a huge lure ($25,000 from the Knight Foundation plus a host of other services) but films coming from the region have a natural audience here in Miami, where expats from Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the rest of Latin America make up a sizeable part of the population and hold a large cultural sway on what many people (gringos included) think of as Miami.

For the savvy American and European distributors who are here, the Festival presents a unique opportunity to view in one convenient week the best works coming from these countries. Most are being seen here in Miami in their international premieres….the first times they have been presented outside of their home countries or regions. This groundswell of new talents enhances Miami’s reputation as a natural gateway for dialogue, co-productions and cooperation between North America, Latin America and Europe. And while the geographic representation is vast, the festival‘s low-key atmosphere and centralized location makes it easy to meet and great filmmakers (look for them sipping coffee every morning at the Festival’s breakfast hospitality bar).

In the Ibero-American competition, Argentina and Brazil have the largest representation….three new films from each country. Argentina is entering its second decade as an industry innovator and this year’s crop continues that status. In the ambitious four hour HISTORIAS EXTRAORDINARIAS, filmmaker Mariano Linas has taken on the monumental task of telling the intertwining adventures off three men on their quest for understanding. In LOVELY LONELINESS, love eventually comes to its neurotic hypochondriac of a heroine, in a witty and wonderfully human directorial touch by co-directors Martin Carranza and Victoria Galaradi. No less a film icon as Martin Scorsese has executive produced the feature debut of rising star Celina Murga in her fascinating look at the sense of entitlement and heartbreaking sense of emptiness of well-to-do children of the upper class in A WEEK ALONE.

Brazil has been a major force on the international film stage since the days of Cinema Novo in the 1970s. That tradition continues with the films THE BALLROOM (Lais Bodansky), which sets its eclectic cast in cross-currents of passion, emotion and dance in a traditional dance hall; THAT’S IT, a semi-autobiographical drama about a pair of Brazilian university students direted by Matheus Soza; and VERONICA, a road movie thriller that won top prize at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, by diredtor Mauricio Farias.

Mexico and Chile have become major sources of cinematic inspiration in the past few years and this year’s entries continue to offer audiences fascinating portraits and stories. Mexico has two films in the program: NORA’S WILL, a gentle family comedy with a rarely seen view of Mexico City’s small but vibrant Jewish community, written and directed by Mariana Chenillo; and the literally explosive I’M GONNA EXPLODE, an amour fou tale between two privileged teenagers that has echoes of director Terrence Mallick’s classic BADLANDS. A petty criminal’s obsessive fascination with the film SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE is at the core of Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s funny yet brutal TONY MANERO. In THE MAID, which won honors in the world cinema competition at the Sundance Film Festival for director Sebastian Silva, the class war between the privileged and their underlings is expressed in a complex rivalry for loyalty and attention.

Spain is represented in the competition by HANDLESS TRICK by director Santiago Zannou, which stars real life rap artist Juan Manuel Montillo in a portrait of Barcelona’s mean streets. An international film festival hit, the Uruguyan film ACNE by Federico Veiroj is a moving and funny tale of the angst of teenage life as a 13-year-old boy is dying to be kissed but is self-conscious about his unfortunate skin condition.

Two film cultures that are not as well known on the international stage have produced two worthy contenders that will undoubtedly find acceptance on the international film festival circuit. GASOLINE, a comic tale with a disturbing twist from Guatemalan director Julio Hernandez Cordon, offers a fascinating look at the daily lives of Guatemalan teenagers. From Panama comes THE WIND AND THE WATER, a collaborative film written and directed by the indigenous peoples of the Igar Yala Collective that offers a fictionalized documentary immersion in the lives of Kuna Yala youth trying to find their place in the culture of Panama City.

While films from the region are also peppered in the Festival’s many program sections, this is the one that generates the most buzz and the most attention. The films offer rare and provocatively intimate looks at the lives of their protagonists and also help define their individual cultures. For this observer, they are a roadmap to what primarily young people are thinking about themselves and their futures.

Sandy Mandelberger, Miami FF Spotlight Editor

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Mandelberger Sandy

March 6-15, 2009

United States

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