When you’re curating the lineup for a film festival that boasts almost 130 movies from 40 countries, finding a common theme is an impossible mission.
But organizers of the 33rd Miami International Film Festival, which is presented by Miami Dade College and runs Friday through March 13 at various venues, say that when the program was completed, one notable element jumped out at them.
“This festival is so diverse and tries to hit so many different genres and cultures that it’s difficult to find overarching themes,” said Jaie Laplante, who is serving as executive director of the festival for the sixth year. “But although quality is always the No. 1 criteria for getting into the festival, we were able to unearth a lot of great work by women filmmakers.”
More than 40 movies in this year’s lineup are the works of female filmmakers, including Hearts of Palm, by Miami experimental director Monica Peña, which is making its world premiere; Beeba Boys, a crime drama set in Canada by Oscar nominee Deepa Mehta (Water); and The Olive Tree, the story of a young woman’s quest on behalf of her grandfather by Spanish actress/director Icíar Bollaín.
In addition to those filmmakers, other notable female attendees at this year’s event include actress Monica Bellucci, who will be interviewed onstage at the Olympia Theater at 7 p.m. Tuesday before a screening of her latest film, Ville-Marie. A three-day seminar series presented by Google focusing on racial and gender gaps in the film and technology industries will take place Saturday through Monday at the Idea Center on the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus. Speakers include cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, whose films include the Oscar-winning Citizenfour.
“This year it seemed like every time we found a film we really wanted, it had a strong female lead or was written or directed by a woman,” said Eloisa Lopez-Gomez, associate director of programs and industry for the festival, who helped sift through the more than 1,000 submissions for this year’s event. “Even when we were programming the kids’ section, we found two films that focused on a strong heroine. It was great to see that, and it fell right in line with the discussion.”
Another recurring theme in this year’s lineup is movies made by local directors, headlined by I’ve Never Not Been From Miami, a screening of 10 short films commissioned by WPBT2, directed by Miami filmmakers including Kenny Riches, Kareem Tabsch, Andrew Hevia, Jonathan David Kane, Keisha Rae Witherspoon and Tina Francisco.
“What I’ve seen over the past six years — and it’s been so gratifying to witness — is the development of a Miami voice and a Miami style,” said Laplante. “I’ve watched Miami film talent, most of whom are collected in this program, develop a specific Miami vibe. It’s been getting stronger. The Borscht filmmakers have contributed strongly to that, but others have joined along the way.
“It’s tied to the growth of the local art scene and Art Basel. Miami filmmakers have been influenced by artists and the cutting-edge work they’ve been doing, so much so that they’re now intertwined. Miami filmmakers have come into their own, and their work can stand alongside anything made anywhere else in the world.”
One thing that hasn’t changed about this year’s festival — and never will — is its strong emphasis on Ibero-American cinema.
Andres Castillo, who has worked as a programmer at the festival for seven years, says he personally watched 300 films for consideration for the 2016 edition.
“We work very hard to make sure Ibero-American movies are represented,” he said. “You have to take into consideration the country each film is coming from and the ideas and stories they are trying to convey. You can’t compare Argentina to Colombia, because Argentina has a much larger film industry. I’ve noticed the festival has changed its programming since I’ve been here. It’s a more accessible festival than it used to be. We have movies for everyone.”