Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Posted on Tuesday, 02.03.09

Miami Film Festival lineup takes chances



A made-in-Miami thriller about a Cuban refugee who runs into big-league trouble in South Florida, a documentary about legendary fashion designer Valentino Garavani, a dark comedy about a man desperate to win a Saturday Night Fever look-alike competition and a cinematic tribute to the late musician Israel ''Cachao'' Lopez are among the highlights of the 26th Miami International Film Festival, which will unspool March 6-15.

The lineup, unveiled Monday, includes 97 feature-length and 40 short films from 40 countries. Debuting is the festival's new director, the Italian-born Tiziana Finzi, who previously worked as a programmer for festivals in Locarno, Switzerland, and in Italy in Venice, Pesaro and Taormina.

Though she may be a newcomer to South Florida, Finzi has not played things safe with the festival's programming. This year's recipient of the Career Achievement Tribute will be iconoclastic filmmaker Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, The King of New York), who has a large critical following in Europe but is revered and reviled in equal measure in the United States. Ferrara will attend the festival for a work-in-progress screening of his new film, Mulberry St., along with a career-honoring sidebar of six of his previous pictures, including his latest, Chelsea on the Rocks.

For the first time in the festival's history, the opening-night film will be a documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, directed by Vanity Fair reporter Matt Tyrnauer. Closing night will bring Empty Nest (El nido vacio), a comedy about a middle-aged couple (Cecilia Roth and Oscar Martinez) figuring out what to do with themselves after the last of their children moves out.

Other intriguing titles schedule to be shown: Afterschool, director Antonio Campos' acclaimed drama about a high school student assigned to create an audiovisual tribute to two dead classmates; Paradise, which brings director Leon Ichaso (Bitter Sugar) back to Miami's mean streets for a tale about a Cuban exile whose arrival in South Florida leads to trouble, and 8, a collection of shorts by eight international directors (including Gus Van Sant, Jane Campion, Mira Nair, Gaspar Noe and Wim Wenders) centering on the Millenium Development Goals on world poverty.

In Tony Manero, a man will go to any length -- including murder - to win a TV contest for best John Travolta impersonator. Director Steve McQueen's Hunger, which upset Slumdog Millionaire for the Best Picture prize at the British Academy Awards on Sunday, recounts the experiences of IRA prisoners who went on a six-week hunger strike in the early 1980s in hopes of seizing the world's attention. And Andy Garcia returns to the festival with Cachao: Uno Mas, director Dikayl Rimmasch's portrait of the late, great Cuban musician.

Finzi has added a new category to the festival, titled Cutting the Edge, which will concentrate on experimental audio-visual works as a way of incorporating the city's growing arts scene with the festival. For a complete list of festival events, including screenings, seminars and ticket information, go to