Sometimes cinema submits us into consent with images that tell us how to be, act or feel. The power of the Seventh Art can be wielded to create propaganda or to push boundaries. It is this power that makes it at once democratic, alluring and — in the best cases — disruptive. The past few days attending Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival have, for the most part, brought fresh air into Miami by packing aesthetics that disrupt the normative dullness that Hollywood usually brings.
Some we have previewed, as Hans Morgenstern has written about in the Miami New Times (see the end of this post for links, as well as our last post: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures filmmakers talk about interview subjects and plans for next work: Trump). But a standout among the films that we previewed is a locally directed, produced and written film called Hearts of Palm (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/hearts-of-palm), which premiered Wednesday night. It was a highlight to have an auteur revealing her vulnerability, as she deconstructs the idea of a relationship and what it means when love is disrupted. Do two people manifest love in each other or is it an independent force that comes and goes? Writer/director Monica Peña (full disclosure: she’s a friend we’ve covered in the past: Storytelling through collaboration – Director Monica Peña discusses filmmaking and upcoming Speaking in Cinema panel) leaves it up to the audience to decide. Here, there’s no suspended disbelief; filmmaking is shown in Hearts of Palm as an artifice itself, an excuse to communicate ideas that in itself is an idea.
Peña was also among the locally produced short documentary filmmakers on local artists in an omnibus program called “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami,” which screened Monday (the image above is from the Q&A after). Peña (second from left) once again gave us remarkable work, examining the creative process with Hearts of Palm collaborator Lucila Garcia De Onrubia … It was a standout among the shorts that played on the giant screen at the Olympia Theater. There were beautiful tributes to dancers Ana Mendez, Pioneer Winter and Rosie Herrera by filmmakers Keisha Rae Witherspoon, Tabatha Mudra and Jonathan David Kane, respectively. A couple of filmmakers explored their subjects with a sense of humor, like Tina Francisco’s Bob Ross Parody featuring concert illustrator Brian Butler and Andrew Hevia’s briskly paced story about actor/writer/director Edson Jean. A fellow called Swampdog captured Aholsniffsglue’s wacky persona as well as collectors’ and fans’ feverish interest in his work. Other artists explored with more gravity and insight included Agustina Woodgate, Cara Despain and Farley Aguilar by Joey Daoud, Kenny Riches and Kareem Tabsch, respectively. While we’re dropping all these names we love, shouts are due out to some of the musicians who contributed to the soundtracks on some of the films, including Richard Vergez, Emile Milgram and Oly.
Among red carpets and sartorial flair, another stand out film was Eye in the Sky, which brought modern warfare ethics front and center. Now, this is not a topic that occupies much time in the airwaves or space in headlines, nor is it a topic that is openly discussed in many of the glossier Miami events, yet the film festival gave us the opportunity to pause and reflect on how it is that the use of drones may be negatively impacting the humanity of those very people who are on the frontlines of particular brand of combat. Director Gavin Hood is no stranger to Hollywood, yet his take on warfare through Eye in the Sky is a thoughtful and measured and does not dictate nor pontificate in a specific direction but makes the audience aware of the many gray areas that can animate policy and how the lines between elected officials and the army are not always as clear-cut as they seem on paper.
It should be noted that Hood’s introduction to the film was quite epic in that he decided to finally speak at length about X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here’s just one quote from the night regarding the superhero flick, which wasn’t necessarily loved by fans nor critics, that contains a key nugget of advice for filmmakers. “It’s not the film I’m most proud of,” he said of the 2009 movie, “and I think that the advice that I would give to any young filmmaker is to be aware of this: I now do not start a movie until the script, which you would think is obvious, is absolutely clearly done, and I know that that’s the film I want to make, and it seems like such unnecessary advice, but that’s what happens.”
It was just part of a much longer answer to festival director of programming Jaie Laplante’s question of what it was like for him to turn from an Oscar-winning Foreign Language film (2005’s Tsotsi) to Hollywood. After Hood finished his rant, Laplante said, “I have to say I wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer.”
“Neither did I,” replied Hood, who was said to have asked for a stiff drink after the night’s opening conversation. Eye In the Sky did not have a repeat screening at the fest. However, it opened today in commercial theaters to very good reviews).
That day we also caught the exquisite Sunset Song by British director Terence Davies, a beautiful film about permanent impermanence shown through family, love and war during turn-of-the-20th-century Scotland. Though the Scottish brogue of some of the actors wasn’t always easy to understand for our American ears, Davies commits himself gloriously to a language that breaks through his indelible imagery. You have a chance to see it one more time at the Miami International Film Festival on Sunday (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/sunset-song). It stands as one of Hans’ favorites at the festival so far, one he would dare use the “m” word for (yes: masterpiece).
Sunday we had a day off and Monday was the “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami” event, which ended with a party on the Olympia’s stage with a DJ who played music by David Byrne and Brian Eno as well as film soundtrack highlights from The Forbidden Planet. On Tuesday we saw the French-Canadian film Ville-Marie. Like Eye in the Sky, it was part of the festival’s “Marquee Series,” and the only of the four screenings that took place at the Olympia Theater. Preceded by a red carpet with the film’s star Monica Bellucci and Director/writer Guy Édoin, the film was informed by the female perspective. In a Q&A with the director before the film started, Bellucci embraced her age and status as a mother as being key to her performance. The movie’s story follows a mother who decides to bare her life on camera and finally reveal the heavy weight of her past to her son. The story was a powerful one, and from the conversation that took place on stage between Édoin and Bellucci, it was also a personal one that carried the weight of Bellucci’s own experience.
Last Friday’s opening night seems so long ago now, but it bears mentioning, as it too was a high-profile affair at the Olympia. It also featured an appearance by a huge star, the singularly named Raphael of Spanish music. We previewed it last year (Miami International Film Festival hints at Spanish heavy line-up for 2016). It did what opening night films should: get the film fest audience excited for the week’s celebration of cinema, premieres, parties and seminars. The film’s humor was distinctly Spanish with references that Spaniards would appreciate more than any other Latins. Director Alex de la Iglesia gets away with skewering the country and its popular culture that also features a glimpse of the filmmaker’s nasty side (in a good way). We hear the film is coming to the Coral Gables Art Cinema and O Cinema. Click the theater names for screening details.
Jumping forward to just last night, we caught two more movies in Little Havana’s Tower Theater. Paulina, a rather grim yet intelligently constructed film from Argentina’s Santiago Mitre. It explores the strength of a liberal minded woman who is gang raped and finds a way toward forgiveness. Actress Dolores Fonzi introduced the film and prepared the audience for what they were about to see. She called the role incredibly challenging and asked the audience not judge her character. It plays again this Saturday (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/paulina).
Afterward, The Forbidden Shore made for a nice palate cleanser. A hyper-active survey of Cuba’s rich and vital music scene, it also gives one hope that creativity can thrive on the authoritarian island. It’s an incredibly polished work by documentary filmmaker Ron Chapman, the director of Who the F**k is Arthur Fogel and The Poet of Havana. It might seem glossy (the still image at the lead of this article comes from the film), but it still gets to the core of music in Cuba: an irrefutable passion. It also has a second screening this Saturday (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/the-forbidden-shore).
Really, we can’t both agree that we have seen a stinker in the lot of movies we have caught so far. If none of these appeal to you, go out there and explore and take a chance, just as we are doing (barring a few assignments).
One of the reasons for this single (though comprehensive) post of our experience (so far) at the festival is because Hans was hired by several publications to cover screenings and talent participating at the festival. Below are links to all the other coverage he has accomplished, including some work in national publications:
Film as a “Spiritual Memory”: Writer/Director Monica Peña on Her Miami International Film Festival Premiere, Hearts of Palm
Miami New Times:
We will offer a wrap up to the rest of the films we catch this weekend, which includes several on Saturday and Sunday. Now we are off to catch Weiner, which also shows again tomorrow (tickets: 2016.miamifilmfestival.com/films/weiner). Let us know what you might be planning to watch at the festival in the comments below.
Except for the photos from “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami” and the Monica Bellucci conversation, all images were provided by the Miami International Film Festival. The festival also provided tickets to all screenings.