Well, after 10 full days of movies, parties and much more, another successful edition of Miami-Dade College’s Miami Film Festival comes to an end. While my weekend plans didn’t pan out as I initially hoped they would—I only managed to catch two of the four films on my weekend list—this was another great (albeit exhausting) experience for me at the festival. Perhaps the overall lineup wasn’t as exciting as the year preceding it but not every year’s a winner.
Still, every film I watched during the festival had something to offer. Daniel Junge’s Being Evel, the first film I caught, was also the first movie I watched at the newly renovated O Cinema Miami Beach. It was a fascinating, consistently entertaining portrait of an American icon but one that had not problem highlighting his rough edges either. Laura Gabbert’s City of Gold was possibly the festival’s most pleasant surprise—it charmed me with its wonderful subject and passion for a city that often doesn’t get its due. Wim Wenders’ The Salt of the Earth was a haunting reminder of humanity’s capacity for good and evil while Hot Girls Wanted directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus reminded me that local filmmakers can make an impact on an international level too.
Speaking of international entries, Theeb, which was one of the two films I saw over the festival’s second weekend, was a thoroughly engrossing coming-of-age adventure set against the political backdrop of World War I—a deliberately slow-paced but measured survivalist drama. I ended my festival with another international entry, the Korean thriller A Hard Day, a movie that reinforces that South Korea is one of the world’s hotbeds for exciting 21st century cinema. And although I didn’t exactly catch Wild Tales, the festival’s Opening Night feature during the festival, I did see it a couple of months ago on my FFCC screener. Nevertheless, I don’t think the festival programmers could have selected a more apt film to open the festival. Kudos to festival directors/programmers Jaie Laplante, Thom Powers and company!
Aside from the movies, there were also the events. While I missed both, the opening night and the closing night parties (for shame, Reuben, for shame), I promise to rectify that next year (provided everything goes as planned). Hell, I’ll even brave the hour-long lines to participate in those fantastic photo ops that my photogenic pals Lauren Cohen and Kai Sacco took advantage of this week. At least I made it to the Hot Girls Wanted after-party, which made for a crazy fun evening. I also made sure I picked a great seat for the enlightening and informative master class session by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Tuesday night. How couldn’t I, considering my obsession with all things awards season?
Speaking of awards… Here’s who took home the gongs and prizes on Saturday evening’s big closing night ceremony.
Mexican filmmaker Ernesto Contreras’ The Obscure Spring was the big winner of the festival winning the festival’s top award, the Knight Competition Grand Jury Prize, as well as the Grand Jury Award for Best Performance (awarded to the entire cast of the film). The Obscure Spring (fantastic title, by the way), which tells the story of a torrid love affair between a married man and a newly-single young mother, and the consequences of that affair on their respective families, stars Jose Maria Yazpik (I’m So Excited), Cecilia Suarez (Spanglish) and Irene Azuela (Miss Bala). The Grand Jury Prize for Best Director was awarded to Panamanian director Abner Benaim’s Invasion, a documentary about the 1989 US invasion of Panama that brought about the removal of Dictator Manuel Noriega.
Chilean documentary Tea Time, about a group of elderly women who meet up once a month to drink and catch up, was announced as the winner of the Knight Documentary Achievement Award. This was the first time that this prize was selected by festival-goers instead of a jury. Also judged by festival-goers was the Lexus Audience Award for Favorite Feature Film which went to the comedy Kamikazee. The film tells the peculiar tale of a terrorist who begins to have second thoughts about his mission after the flight he’s supposed to hijack gets grounded for the night and he has to spend the night with the people he’s supposed to kill.
In the Grayscale, a film that a couple of my colleagues lost their collective minds over, won the Lexus Ibero-American Opera Prima Competition while Theeb, a film I liked, won the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriting Award. Young Lions of Gypsy was the winner of the Park Grove Shorts Competition as well as the Lexus Audience Favorite Short Film, and The Apostate won the Miami Encuentros prize. Finally, The First Day, a 20-minute short about a troubled man trying to reestablish his relationship with his five-year-old daughter on his first day out of prison, was the overwhelming winner of the Cinemaslam competition, winning six awards in all, a MIFF record!
And that’s all folks! See you at MIFFecito 2015 or once again in 2016! Au Revoir #MiamiFF!
2015 MIAMI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS:
Knight Competition Grand Jury Prize: The Obscure Spring (Mexico)
Knight Competition Grand Jury Award Best Performance: Cecilia Suarez, Jose Maria Yazpik and the entire cast of The Obscure Spring
Knight Competition Grand Jury Award Best Director: Abner Benaim – Invasion (Panama / Argentina)
Knight Documentary Achievement Award: Tea Time (Chile / USA), directed by
Lexus Audience Award for Favorite Feature Film: Kamikazee (Spain)
Lexus Audience Favorite Short Film: Young Lions of Gypsy (Italy/France)
Lexus Ibero-American Opera Prima Competition: In The Grayscale (Chile)
Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriting Award: Theeb (Jordan / Qatar / UAE / UK)
Park Grove Shorts Competition: Young Lions of Gypsy (Italy/France)
Honorable Mentions: A Tree in the Sea (United Arab Emirates) & Alba Baptista for her performance in Miami (Portugal).
Miami Encuentros: The Apostate (Spain / France / Uruguay)
Grand Prize winner: The First Day
Audience Award winner: The First Day
Best Documentary: Romana
Best Drama: The First Day
Best Actor: Juan Jimenez – The First Day
Best Actress: Valentina Jimenez – The First Day
Best Director: Rita Pereyra – The First Day
Best Technical Achievement: Timothy Wilcox – Top Shelf