The Miami Film Festival begins a new edition with the rigors of COVID-19, but faithful to its spirit of celebrating the seventh art and those who make it possible.
Until March 14th, more than a hundred feature films, documentaries and short films of all genres from 40 countries will be presented at this festival, which will feature world premieres such as the Guatemalan film 1991, produced by Golden Globe nominee Jairo Bustamante, and special awards to figures such as Almodóvar and Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno.
On the opening night, La Mancha’s director will receive the Precious Gem Master Award after the screening of his short film The Human Voice, shot in English and starring actress Tilda Swinton.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has been one of the reasons why this award, as well as those that will recognize, among others, Latin legend Rita Moreno, and the Spanish actor Javier Cámara, will be delivered virtually, having been previously recorded.
According to what festival director, Jaie Laplante, told EFE today, when receiving the award the Spanish director highlighted the importance for his international career of the screening of his third feature film, Entre tinieblas (1983), at the first edition of this festival, which was the first in the United States to program one of his films.
The director returned to Miami the following year, when his work was beginning to be known in the United States, and since then the festival has programmed several of his classics in its official program.
The relationship of this South Florida city with Almodóvar was cemented with the retrospective to his work that in 2018 was held at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, a venue directed by Nat Chediak, founder of the Miami Film Festival and its Director until 2001.
“There is no greater bliss for a film programmer than to encounter a totally original filmmaker, in full control of his terrain and whose work is unlike that of any other,” Chediak told EFE at the time about what happened to him with Almodóvar more than 35 years ago.
The Miami Film Festival, which will open with the world premiere of the film Ludi by Edson Jean, will also honor film legend Rita Moreno, remembered for her Oscar-winning performance in West Side Story and one of the few actresses who, in addition to the Academy Award, has at least one Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award to her credit.
In her acceptance speech for the Precious Gem Icon Award, according to Laplante, the Latina star, born in Puerto Rico 89 years ago, recalled films from her filmography that are among her favorites, such as Popi (1969), which touches on the theme of Cuban immigration to the United States.
The Miami festival will screen the documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, directed by Puerto Rican Mariem Pérez Riera, which traces the ups and downs of the actress’ more than 70-year career.
Spanish actor Javier Cámara will receive the Precious Gem Award, both for his career and for his work in the feature film El olvido que seremos by Fernando Trueba, Oscar winner for Belle Epoque, which will have its U.S. premiere at the festival.
Other films of interest in the program include 1991, directed by Guatemalan Sergio Ramírez and whose screenplay is also signed by Jairo Bustamente, director of La Llorona, which is among those shortlisted for the Oscar for best international film.
The group of films selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the United States also includes Dominican film Mis 500 locos, by Leticia Tonos, which is part of this festival, as well as the drama of Cuban political prisoners in the celebrated feature film Plantados, by Lilo Vilaplana.
Javier Fuentes-León’s Peruvian-Colombian co-production The Best Families will have its North American premiere at this festival, which also hosts the U.S. premiere of Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina), directed by Jasmila Zbanic, also among those shortlisted for the Oscar for international film.
Cinema and COVID-19
The festival has opted for a format that combines virtual screenings and others in movie theaters, which will be at 50% of capacity and where spectators will have to wear masks, in accordance with the mandates of local and federal authorities.
Laplante confessed that holding an event under these conditions has been a “learning experience”, but he emphasized that unlike other artistic events, the one organized by Miami Dade College has managed to overcome the threat of cancellation or postponement.
“We have been able to move forward, change and be creative,” said the director, after recalling that last year’s edition, held in March 2020, overcame the first phase of the pandemic, after Florida reported its first two confirmed cases of covid that month.
The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to arts and entertainment, among many other sectors, in what is a “process of change” that is still being analyzed, as Laplante pointed out, which has accelerated transformations that were foreseen to happen but in the future.
In that sense, the director believes that in the following years “the integration of the virtual experience in presentations and premieres will not replace the theatrical experience” which will be maintained, although it is one of the reasons for this year’s hybrid edition, which could be replicated in future editions.
“Film is still a very vital art form,” he said.
The Miami festival will close with another world premiere, the documentary Birthright, by Jayme Gershen, which features the electro-pop duo Afrobeta, whose members were invited to perform in Havana (Cuba), the land of their parents, giving rise to a “surreal” experience.