March has barely begun, and already we’ve gone through the Miami Jewish Film Festival, the Borscht Film Festival and the Oscar frenzy driven by the made-in-Miami drama “Moonlight.”
But when you ask Jaie Laplante, the executive director of the Miami Film Festival, whether he’s worried about the city suffering from film fatigue just as the 2017 edition of the event kicks off, his answer is a confident “No.”
“Part of the reason art house cinema culture is doing so well in Miami right now is because the more good movies people see, the more movies they want to see,” says Laplante, who is entering his seventh year as the head of the festival. “This year in particular, with everything that happened at the Oscars with ‘Moonlight,’ there’s a fever pitch of interest in movies right now. People want to celebrate them, and the festival is the perfect place to do that.”
Running March 3-12 at various venues around the city, the 34th edition of Miami’s biggest annual celebration of film kicks off at the Olympia Theater at 7 p.m. March 3 with a screening of the drama “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” with actor Richard Gere and writer-director Joseph Cedar in attendance.
The festival’s closing-night selection is “For Your Own Good,” a comedy from Spain about three overprotective fathers trying to break up their daughters’ respective romances.
One hundred and thirty other feature-length and short films will screen at the festival, alongside special events such as “An Evening with Rossy de Palma,” an in-person conversation with the iconic Spanish actress at 7 p.m. March 4 at the Olympia Theater, and the festival’s second edition of “Google Talks,” a series of panel discussions addressing gender and racial gaps in the film and technology industries.
Attendance for the festival, which is presented by Miami Dade College on a budget of $2 million, has remained steady over the last few years, averaging 60,000. Laplante says that the festival’s audience continues to replenish itself — roughly 25 percent of all festival-goers for each edition of the event are first-time attendees — and that ticket sales this year are already “through the roof,” with an expected attendance of 80 percent capacity at most screenings.
This year’s program was culled from 800 submissions, as well as curated titles chosen by programmers at various festivals around the world.
Although the basic concept of a film festival might seem a little stale in this era of streaming video, which makes movies more accessible than ever, Laplante says the event still serves an important purpose that no amount of technology can replace.
“There are more opportunities now than ever before to see great films outside of a festival,” he says. “But the festival continues to provide opportunities for movies that will not be distributed theatrically in this country. It’s a way to see alternative cinema that you will never see on Netflix or at your neighborhood art house cinema, because they don’t have distribution. A lot of them deal with important subjects that wouldn’t sustain a commercial run.”
Showcasing Florida film
Continuing the festival’s increasing inclusion of local filmmakers, several programs focus on Miami movies. Director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman (“The U,” “Cocaine Cowboys”) will present “Straight Out of Miami: Rakontur Previews New Work,” a sneak peek at their upcoming projects, including the documentary series “A Sunny Place for Shady People,” at 7:30 p.m. March 10 at Regal South Beach.
The Miami Filmmakers Collective is co-hosting two festival screenings: “The Grown-ups,” director Maite Alberdi’s documentary about four middle-aged students at a Chilean school for Down’s Syndrome children at 4 p.m. March 5 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema; and “Untouchable,” a study of Florida lobbyist Ron Book’s war on sex offenders, at 1 p.m. March 11 at Regal South Beach.
Emilio Estefan produced and Gloria Estefan co-stars in “A Change of Heart,” about a morally conservative man (Jim Belushi) whose personal views are challenged after a heart transplant. The film makes its world premiere at 7 p.m. March 10 at the Olympia Theater. The Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival co-presents the world premiere of “Cargo,” about a desperate man who resorts to human trafficking, at 6 p.m. March 5 at Regal South Beach.
“Florida Stories,” a program comprised of three short films set in or about South Florida, plays at 9:45 p.m. March 4 at Tower. Co-directors Dennis Scholl and Marlon Johnson, whose previous film “Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound” premiered at the 2014 festival, return with “Symphony in D,” which follows musician Tod Machover’s year-long attempt to write a symphony celebrating Detroit and its people. The movie plays at 4 p.m. March 5 at O Cinema Miami Beach.
For a complete festival lineup, visit miamifilmfestival.com.
What to see
Here’s a cheat sheet of some of the films I’m anticipating the most (in no particular order):
▪ “It’s Only the End of the World”: Director Xavier Dolan’s French-language drama about a terminally-ill man (Gaspard Ulliel) who returns home to tell his family (including Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux) he’s dying was jeered by critics when it made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival — then went on to win the prestigious Grand Jury prize, proving that critics aren’t always right. Plays at 9:30 p.m. March 6 at Coral Gables Art Cinema.
▪ “The Bar”: The best thing about the movies by Spanish writer-director Álex de la Iglesia (“The Last Circus,” “My Big Night,” “Witching and Bitching”) is how they can veer off in an unexpected direction at any moment. This comedy-thriller about a group of strangers trapped inside a diner could turn out to be anything from an Agatha Christie-style mystery to an apocalyptic monster movie in the vein of “The Mist.” Plays at 9:30 p.m. March 5 at Tower and 9:45 p.m. March 6 at Regal South Beach.
▪ “The Darkness”: Shot by the great cinematographer Diego García (“Cemetery of Splendor,” “Neon Bull”), this Mexican thriller centers on a father (Brontis Jodorowsky) and his three kids who live in fog-shrouded woods haunted by monsters. Plays at 9:15 p.m. March 6 at Regal South Beach and 8:30 p.m. March 7 at Tower.
▪ “The Unknown Girl”: The films by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“La Promesse,” “The Kid With a Bike,” “L’enfant”) have been a staple of the Miami Film Festival going back to the event’s Gusman-only days. Their latest, about a doctor (Adèle Haenel) stricken by guilt after turning away a despondent woman who kills herself, promises to be another thoughtful exploration of human nature and the implacable persistence of conscience. Plays at 9 p.m. March 5 at O Cinema Miami Beach and 6 p.m. March 12 at Regal South Beach.
▪ “Are We Not Cats”: The debut of writer-director Xander Robin has the sort of improbable premise that sounds unlike any movie I’ve seen: After losing his job, his apartment and his girlfriend — all on the same day — a man falls for a woman who shares his unusual predilection for eating hair. Plays at 9 p.m. March 8 at O Cinema Miami Beach.
▪ “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On”: Director Rashida Jones will attend the showing of this episode of the upcoming Netflix series inspired by the documentary “Hot Girls Wanted,” about Miami’s amateur porn industry, which premiered at the festival in 2015. Plays at 7 p.m. March 7 at Regal South Beach.
▪ “Last Days in Havana”: The new drama by Cuban filmmaker Fernando Pérez (“Life is to Whistle,” “Havana Suite”) centers on the relationship between two roommates: One is a busboy who dreams of moving to New York, the other is a man dying from the HIV virus. Plays at 7 p.m. March 9 at Olympia Theater.
▪ “Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press”: Director Brian Knappenberger’s timely documentary uses the high-profile lawsuit by the professional wrestler against the website that published his sex tape as a way to explore the increasing battle over freedom of speech in America. Plays at 6:45 p.m. March 8 at Coral Gables Art Cinema.
▪ “Frantz”: Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “8 Women”) directs this drama, about two people mourning the death of a mutual acquaintance in a small German town after World War I. Plays at 4 p.m. March 4 at Regal South Beach.