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Miami Film Festival Fetes Toni Morrison Documentary, Ibero-American Cinema

Now in its 36th year, the Miami Intl. Film Festival continues to reflect the cultural vitality and international mindset of its home city. For festival director Jaie Laplante, the programming’s decidedly global focus is a way of accurately representing the city.

“Miami is a very dynamic and cosmopolitan place, really a crossroads between Europe and Latin America,” he says.

This year’s edition, which runs from March 1-10, will showcase more than 160 films from more than 40 different countries.

“We’ve always had a special affinity for works from the Ibero-American world — Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, Central America, South America,” Laplante says. “It’s a reputation that has been built up over the years.”

To find the most significant international films, Miami’s programmers maintain a presence at the San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, as well as at those in Ventana Sur and Buenos Aires.

There’s a significant amount of local work in the festival as well, a recent development, “very much inspired by what we call the “‘Moonlight’ effect,” Laplant says.

“When ‘Moonlight’ won best picture at the Academy Awards two years ago, it was a tremendous source of pride for Miami, because both Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney are Miami born,” he says. “It’s a Miami story and it was shot in Miami, and it had the gravitas to make an impact on the global stage. It’s been kind of a beacon for all filmmakers that want to tell Miami stories.”

In acknowledgment of this fresh energy, the fest created the Knight Made in MIA Award competition, which awards cash prizes to one feature and one short that focus on the South Florida community.

For 2019, the festival is also inaugurating the Knight Heroes program, which brings three creative talents to Miami to share their insights and advice with the next generation of South Florida filmmakers and artists. Along with Miami’s own Jenkins, this year’s Knight Heroes are Boots Riley (“Sorry to Bother You”) and Aaron Stewart-Ahn (co-writer of “Mandy”).

This year’s fest will open with Tom Donahue’s “This Changes Everything,” a documentary examining gender inequity in the entertainment industry, and featuring women including Meryl Streep, Geena Davis, Sandra Oh, Rosario Dawson, Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes.

Laplante says despite the focus on injustice, it’s not an angry film, and its values resonate with those of the festival. “We participated with Google a few years ago on a two-year seminar program to deal with questions of gender and racial inequality in creative power positions in the film industry, and those stories and learnings have really stayed with us. It’s part of our values. So it was a good symbol for us to choose ‘This Changes Everything’ to open the 36th edition.”

Among the narrative world premieres, Laplante mentions particular excitement about “The Projectionist,” from the Dominican Republic.

“Jose Maria Cabral had a worldwide breakthrough with his previous film ‘Woodpeckers’ [Carpinteros], and this is just a tremendous leap forward, even from the sophistication of that film. It’s a great paranoid thriller in the vein of the great American 1970s films.”

“Another film that we’re particularly proud to have the world premiere of is ‘A Name Without a Place,’ directed by Kenny Riches. It’s his follow-up to ‘The Strongest Man,’ which premiered at Sundance and did extremely well around America.”

Laplante also mentions the Argentine film “The Accused,” directed by Gonzalo Tobal, which was supported in development by the festival’s Miami Film 2016 fund.

Miami’s documentary slate includes the world premiere of “Singular,” a tribute to the Miami-born jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, who will perform a live set after the March 2 premiere. Two other docs featured in the festival’s Marquee Series are Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” about the legendary, Nobel Prize-winning American novelist, and Stanley Nelson’s “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool.”

Laplante says documentary is a priority, and he credits the programming team for another strong slate. “Thom Powers is our documentary programmer, and he’s been called the kingmaker of documentaries by the New York Times,” he says. “So he is really the genius behind getting the very hottest documentaries of the year into this festival, and they’re extremely popular with our audience.”

The festival’s Estrella Damm Precious Gem Award will honor actress Patricia Clarkson, who won a Golden Globe this year for her role in Jean-Marc Vallee’s HBO series “Sharp Objects.” Given Clarkson’s versatile and adventurous three-decade career, Laplante says the choice was a no-brainer. “She’s got a wonderful persona and a wonderful oeuvre, from her big-budget studio work to her scrappy independent work. She’s one of a kind.”

In addition, Variety recently announced 10 Latinxs to Watch will be honored by Miami Intl.

Film Festival at a celebratory luncheon March 9. The celebration will also include a panel and three film screenings: Jayro Bustamante’s “Tremors,” “The Accused,” starring Lali Esposito, and “Vandal” with Daniel Zovatto.

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