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Thread: The 2007 Miami International Film Festival

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    The 2007 Miami International Film Festival

    Greetings from sunny Miami. Local filmgoers await with excitement the signature film event in our city. The 2007 Miami International Film Festival will take place from March 2nd to March 11th at 6 venues throughout the city. The festival is divided into several sections. 17 films from established directors, which are typically shown out of competition, are screened at the majestic 1400-seat Gusman Theatre in the downtown area. Dramatic and Documentary features competing for awards usually receive three screenings at smaller venues located in South Beach, Coral Gables, Little Havana, and North Miami. This year the Festival opens with the screening of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book and closes with the world premiere of The Heart of the Earth, the new film by Antonio Cuadri.

    The Festival will show well over 100 films from throughout the world, with a continued concentration on documentaries and films from Iberoamerica. The Festival's Film Exchange Program focuses on a different Latin American country each year with exhibition of films, panel discussions and events. This year, films from emerging Colombian filmmakers will be shown, and the festival will bring to Bogota a group of film industry advisors to share experience and knowledge with Colombian film students and filmmakers.

    In 2007, the Festival bestows its Career Achievement Award to the world-famous director Luc Besson. His latest film, Angel-A, will be screened following a tribute.
    Let the films begin!

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    CHOKING MAN (USA)

    Choking Man is set in Jamaica, Queens, where reportedly 140 different languages are spoken. Rick, a sympathetic Greek man, is the owner of Olympic Diner. His quiet wife is the cashier; a surly Mexican cooks; there's Jerry, a jokester from Philadelphia who did time for selling drugs, and middle-aged, long-suffering waitress Teri. The film's protagonist is Jorge, a pathologically shy busboy from Ecuador. When Rick hires a new waitress named Amy, a cute and vivacious Chinese girl, friction develops between Jerry and Jorge.

    Choking man is quite a departure for Steve Barron, who directed groundbreaking music videos in the early 80s and went on to make Electric Dreams, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Coneheads. His latest feature is an independent, low-budget film, based on his own script, that depicts a young immigrant "choking on the American Dream". One can't imagine the extremely introverted, near-mute Jorge managing anywhere, and one can't imagine a more inaccessible protagonist. Barron responds to the challenge by finding novel ways to get inside Jorge's head. At first it seems that the handsome guy inside Jorge's dingy studio is his roommate. Gradually it becomes apparent he is a type of mental projection, perhaps Jorge's alter ego, or his subconscious, or an alternative personality kept locked inside his psyche. On the outside, Barron illustrates Jorge's thoughts and imaginings via brief animated sequences. As a result, Choking Man manages to create a rich character study of an individual cinema rarely bothers to portray. The excellent ensemble cast features Mandy Patikin as Rick, and newcomers Octavio Gomez Berrios and Eugenia Yuan. Choking Man was named "Best Film Not Playting at a Theater Near You" at the Gotham Awards.

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    COCALERO (Bolivia)

    Cocalero is a term used in Bolivia to describe coca leaf growers or members of the union they formed to advance their interests. Coca growers became politicized after the Bolivian government, pressured and financed by the USA, began a campaign to eradicate coca plantations. The key person in this union movement is Evo Morales, a bachelor of indigenous descent (Aymara tribe) who is now the President of this South American country. Native populations have historically been subjected to all types of abuses and discrimination throughout the Americas. Morales states he understood the degree of hatred towards indians when, in 1981, he witnessed a Quechua man being burned alive by soldiers not far from his small farm.

    Documentarian Alejandro Landes was given unprecedented access to the charismatic but simple leader. Cocalero's footage was shot over the course of a year, but focuses mainly on Morales during the 2-month campaign as the presidential candidate from the "March Toward Socialism" party. Landes shows him getting a haircut at a tiny barbershop, taking a back-country swim in a river, ordering breakfast at a food stall, and casually chatting with townfolk. Morales is a populist who seems quite humble, lacking the arrogance and self-importance of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, his major ally in the region. We watch him at campaign meetings and political demonstrations, rallying workers with a fiery speech and appeasing business and military leaders. As we follow the candidate, the viewer gets an overview of Bolivian society although, lamentably, Cocalero pays no attention to the opposition or those who disagree with his socialist platform. Of particular interest are scenes involving several indigenous women of limited education who have been elected to political posts, and a scene in which Morales is publicly subjected to racial slurs. Cocalero ends with a caption that reports that Morales won the election with 54% of the vote in his favor. Over the closing credits, we watch a tailor making a business suit for the president. His first one.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 02-23-2007 at 03:20 PM.

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    Morales is a populist who seems quite humble, lacking the arrogance and self-importance of Venezuela's Hugo Perez, his major ally in the region.
    I guess you mean these unfavorable adjectives to refer to Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela?

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    Thanks.

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    SALVADOR (PUIG ANTICH) (Spain)

    The titular character is the last person to be sentenced to death in western Europe. It happened, naturally, at the conclusion of the Franco regime in Spain, the last country in the region to embrace democracy. The film opens immediately after Salvador (Daniel Bruhl, who was born in Barcelona and speaks unaccented Spanish and Catalan) was brought to jail. He meets with his lawyer Arau (Tristan Ulloa) and recounts in flashback the last three years of his life. At the beginning of the 1970s, the MIL, a left-wing group made up of a handful of Spanish college students and French militants, commits a series of robberies in Catalonia to fund the more radical sectors of the workers' movement. At first, their success gives the young, giddy MIL members a feeling of invulnerability. Their actions come to a sudden end in September 1973 when members of the Socio-Political Brigade set a trap for two of the group's key members. During the arrest, there is a shootout in which a police inspector dies. Salvador is seriously injured and, after a time in hospital, is sent to Modelo prison in Barcelona to await trial. Salvador depicts the camaraderie between the friends/partners-in-arms and the protagonist's intermittent family life and romantic liaisons.

    Director Manuel Huerga (Antartida, Gaudi) maintains a fast pace during the fist half of the film via quick edits and skillful deployment of handheld cameras. The vibrant, saturated colors give way to a palatte of somber grays and blues during the last hour of Salvador. Arau and Salvador's sisters race against the clock to save him from "the garrote", Franco's very brutal method of execution. However, on 20 December 1973, an ETA bomb kills Admiral Carrero Blanco, a high government official. Huerga's film proposes that Salvador Puig Antich became the scapegoat for a sector of Franco's regime bent on revenge. As Salvador prepares to die, he develops a close relationship with Jesus (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a prison guard who moves from brutality to empathy as he gets to know the young militant. All the efforts to save his life, including an improbable and bizarre escape attempt, are in vain and Puig Antich is executed on March 2, 1974. Towards the end, Salvador (Puig Antich) becomes somewhat repetitive and sentimental. The filmmakers' aim to highlight the tragedy and gravity of the event is commendable, but I find that the change in pace serves to lessen the film's impact and diffuse its undeniable power. Salvador (Puig Antich) received 11 Goya nominations and won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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    TWO HOMELANDS, CUBA AND THE NIGHT (Germany)

    This documentary aims to answer the question: what's it like to be gay in 21st century Cuba? Producer/director Christian Liffers made two trips to the island to interview six individuals that constitute a cross-section of the gay community. The six portraits alternate with readings of poems by Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), the renowned gay writer whose life was dramatized in the acclaimed film Before Night Falls. There are also brief musical interludes, most of them original compositions. A former friend of Arenas finds acceptance and sense of community among practicioners of African-based religions; an artist and intellectual complains about the government censoring his provocative photo exhibit; a 19 year old social worker gives a tour of the clandestine gay meeting places in the outskirts of Havana; an HIV-positive man struggles to make a living as a drag performer; a transexual living with a dozen relatives finds brief respite from prejudice at nightly get-togethers along Havana's waterfront; an unemployed 30 year-old relates how a private party was infiltrated by an undercover cop who made a video that was shown to party officials, his own father among them.

    The violent repression of gay life experienced by Arenas in the 70s is no longer the government's policy, which was oficially amended in the late 80s. The current practice is to keep gays (and lesbians) marginalized, outside of "official" society. For instance, there are no establishments of any kind that cater to gays, no gay organizations, no freedom to express explicitly gay viewpoints or depict aspects of gay lifestyle, and no educational campaigns aimed at reducing homophobia or HIV infection. The poems and novels written by Arenas remain unpublished on the island. Clandestine copies of his works are still subjected to expropriation. These issues are not explored beyond what is divulged by the six men. As a matter of fact, a significant amount of material they share deals with the universal theme of the search for happiness and lasting romance. Two Homelands would gain heft and gravity by moving beyond the anecdotal to explore and perhaps confront the barriers to progress for gay Cubans.

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    Great Stuff Oscar
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Thanks Johann. It's great fun to cover the fest. But it's a big project and your encouragement and interest are important to me. Expect two reviews daily for the next four weeks. Will move the reviews to the Festival Coverage area and keep a thread here for comments, questions and whatever.

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    THE 12 LABORS (Brazil)

    Heracles (Sidney Santiago) has spent a couple of years at a reformatory for petty theft. The handsome 18 year-old from the slums of Sao Paulo wants to renounce a life of crime. "Depending on where you were born, your story is written before it starts", he comments in voice-over. His cousin Jonas (played by Madame Sata's Flavio Bouraqui) provides him with an opportunity: to join him as a motorcycle courier for Olimpo Express. Heracles is hired on a trial basis and sets out to prove he can handle the task. During the course of one day, Heracles is entrusted with both assignments and impromptu requests from clients. Heracles navigates the city of 17 million on a beat-up motorcycle trying to meet the 12 challenges. Changing his fate will require a Herculean effort.

    Indeed, The 12 Labors's structure is inspired by a tale from Greek mythology. Writer/director Ricardo Elias has previously shown a particular interest in impoverished young men trying to "do the right thing" and enter mainstream society. He offers an alternative to a slew of films that exploit the violent, criminal lives of ghetto youth for thrills (City of God being the most prominent). The threat of violence is palpable here, but it never manifests itself. It merely lurks somewhere on the periphery of the action. Consequently, some viewers may find the plot less compelling than anticipated. Instead, The 12 Labors explores the potential obstacles that keep lower-class youth mired in a life of crime and deprivation, and creates a comprehensive snapshot of Sao Paulo via Heracles' contacts with a variety of its residents. To that end, Elias gives artistic license to his protagonist, who narrates brief biographies of several individuals he meets throughout the day as if he really knew them. The dynamic mise-en-scene is enhanced by a knockout soundtrack that incorporates orchestral passages, Brazilian hiphop, and samba-infused electronica. The final scene pays homage to Truffaut's The 400 Blows and draws parallels between Heracles and Antoine Doinel. The 12 Labors took home the Horizons Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival and the Best Actor award at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 02-24-2007 at 09:46 PM.

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    RADIANT CITY (Canada)

    Throughout his career, writer/director Gary Burns has developed the theme of people trapped in dehumanizing environments in his native Calgary. He debuted with The Suburbanators, a comedy about 20-somethings living in cookie-cutter residential developments and hanging out in strip malls. His best film to date, Waydowntown, is set entirely in the grid of downtown office buildings interconnected by glass-enclosed walkways that dominate the city's center. Now Burns has teamed up with journalist Jim Brown to make a documentary about life in Calgary's newest suburban enclaves.

    Radiant City combines interviews of city planners, architects and sociologists with a presentation of the daily life of the Mosses, a family who moved from the inner city to a new suburban development a year earlier. The experts provide interesting data about the increasing amount of private space required by North Americans over time, and how it compares with other industrial nations. The sacrifice of community for the sake of privacy and security, the way house design has changed to deter social interaction, and the effects of the cost of land and energy are major issues explored, although not always with sufficient depth. Moss family members discuss their lifestyle-altering decision to move to the suburbs, and the inherent gains and losses. Some drama is generated when dad decides to act in a community play, a musical comedy that pokes fun at suburban living. His wife disappoves and ends up refusing to attend. The filmmakers have a trick up their sleeve, a last-minute revelation that warrants discussion but cannot possibly be revealed without spoiling the surprise.

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    Re Two Homelands, Cuba and the Night.
    no educational campaigns aimed at reducing homophobia or HIV infection.
    In view of Cuba's known involvement in health care, this rings false. There are quite a number of non-Cuban websites that detail Cuba's AIDS information and treatment programs and their success. Maybe you say "the documentary says," here unless you are sure it presents gospel truth.

    Re The Twelve Labors.
    Indeed, The 12 Labors's structure is inspired by a tale from greek mythology.
    Yes, obviously, the labors of Hercules. Greek, Indian, French, etc. should be capitalized.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Maybe you say "the documentary says," here unless you are sure it presents gospel truth.
    I already qualified the statement when I wrote: "These issues are not explored beyond what is divulged by the six men". Finding "the gospel truth" about any Cuban issue is virtually impossible because of the propaganda war between those for and those against Castro. I'm presenting this information as coming from the six documentary subjects. I wouldn't trust ANY source of info about Cuba as "the gospel truth".

    Yes, obviously, the labors of Hercules. Greek, Indian, French, etc. should be capitalized.
    You're right.

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    SATANAS (Colombia/Mexico)

    Debut feature by Colombian director Andi Baiz, a New York University graduate. Satanas (Spanish for Satan) is an adaptation of a popular novel by Mario Mendoza based on real events that took place in Bogota in 1986. Baiz presents three separate plot threads that converge at the conclusion. Each thread is dominated by a precisely drawn character struggling with "the evil within" or the dark aspects of their personalities. Eliseo is a trilingual, cultured man who served in the US Army for 13 years, including tours of duty in Vietnam. He is about 50, single, and works as a private English tutor. Eliseo lives with his elderly mother, with whom he constantly bickers. He has an obsession with order and cleanliness_he carries a bottle of hand desinfectant wherever he goes and eschews cloth towels for disposable, paper ones. Eliseo is courteous but not kind; meets a friend for chess regularly but treats him with great reserve; he is obviously troubled but can't express it. Paola, a sexy 20-something, makes a living by meeting men at ritzy clubs and spiking their cocktails so her accomplices can steal from them. Returning alone from a club one night, she gets raped by two men. She takes revenge with help from her crime buddies, then feels remorse. She vows to change her lifestyle and gets a job as a waitress. Ernesto is a portly priest disappointed by his failure to keep a parishioner from committing a serious crime, and tormented by his lust for his cleaning lady. One night he takes his frustrations on a persistent beggar. Eventually, he realizes he's lost his vocation for the priesthood. He takes the cleaning lady out to dinner at a restaurant where he will run into Paola and Eliseo.

    Satanas is an auspicious debut for Mr. Baiz, who was obviously ready for feature-length work after directing several well received shorts. The style of the film is straightforward, never calling attention to itself. The suggestive, piano-based score by Angelo Milli is a major asset in sustaining a portentous mood. The script, written also by the director, is tight and economical. Satanas is truly a character-based piece. Its ace-in-the-hole is Damian Alcazar, winner of 6 Mexican Academy Awards and known to American audiences via films like Herod's Law, Chronicles, and The Crime of Father Amaro. His Eliseo is a particularly difficult part because he must merely suggest a storm brewing inside while presenting a placid emotional facade. I don't claim expertise in distribution matters, but it seems obvious to me that Satanas has wide commercial appeal. Satanas is having its world premiere at the festival before opening in Colombia next June. Distributors should heed my advice and start bidding.

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    I don't claim expertise in distribution matters. . .

    To some extent you can. You've been thinking about those issues longer than I have. The Rendez-Vous brought me a little more insight ithis time because I was a bit closer to what was going on and talked every day to a guy who sells films, began to get a sense of his point of view.

    This sounds like an interesting piece. Sort of the Innaritu model, no? The three converging plotlines is beginning to become a commonplace template. But that doesn't mean it can't work well. You mean Baiz went to NYU Film School I assume, not just NYU?

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