South Florida has no shortage of film festivals: Borscht, Filmgate, Brazilian, Key West, American Black, Miami Jewish, Miami Short, Popcorn Frights, and others. But the most prestigious of them all are the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Miami Film Festival, which together bring hundreds of new films to South Florida screens.
The Fort Lauderdale fest, which goes by the acronym FLiFF, has plenty to celebrate this year. Its 31st annual edition runs November 4 through November 20 and offers more than 100 American independent and world cinema features, shorts, and documentaries.
"We've programmed an exciting lineup this year with a few new twists. With the world as it is today, we have leaned toward more uplifting and lighter fare," explains Gregory von Hausch, president and CEO of FLiFF. The festival will open with one of those seemingly light choices — Robert Schwartzman's directorial debut Dreamland — and director and lead actor Johnny Simmons will attend the screening.
But fans of more serious fare won't be disappointed. "There are still some very fine documentaries and dramas," says von Hausch, pointing to FLiFF Centerpiece Film Custody, a James Lapine project that stars Viola Davis, Hayden Panettiere, Tony Shaloub, Ellen Burstyn, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. The film tells the story of a mother battling New York City's Family Court to keep custody of her children.
FLiFF also takes place during the presidential election, and the fest's programmers have taken advantage of that timing. The evening before voters head to the polls, FLiFF will screen Chief Zabu, a sociopolitical comedy about New York real-estate operators who scheme to take over a Polynesian country. It's a film that was written and directed in 1986 but never completed until now, 30 years later, and the filmmakers will be in town to attend the premiere.
The night of the election itself, however, is a different story. "As the presidential election falls in the first week of the festival, we'll also feature the live broadcast at the newly renovated Cinema Paradiso-Lauderdale, which has been named Savor Cinema, after philanthropist and festival board member Steve Savor," von Hausch explains. Savor Cinema will become Election Central, with a live stream of the election on the big screen, accompanied by a light-bites buffet where the food will be free as long as you're wearing an "I Voted" sticker.
Though Miami Film Festival's 34th edition won't open until March 2017, film fans have its midyear installment, Gems, to tide them over. Taking place October 13 through 16, Gems will screen a slate of features, opening with the Florida premiere of the music documentary The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé: A Trip Across Latin America. The film follows the iconic bandmates on a road trip as they tour South America for the first time in more than a decade until their final stop in Havana, Cuba.
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Other Gems selections include Cannes' Palme d'Or winner I, Daniel Blake and Cannes Best Actor and Best Screenplay winner The Salesman, as well as the Cannes festival favorite and Germany's official Oscar submission, Toni Erdmann. Marcos Carnevale's Inseparables and Paco Léon's Kiki, el Amor Se Hace will show for the first time in the States on Gems screens, along with the Florida premieres of Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women, Antonio Campos' Christine, Anna Muylaert's Don't Call Me Son, and Jim Jarmusch's Iggy Pop documentary Gimme Danger.
"These are the movies that matter the most right now," says Miami Film Festival executive director and director of programming Jaie Laplante. "These are grand visions of our humanity and what is becoming of us. This is cinema that shows us life as novels and television cannot."
With the main Miami festival still half a year away, Laplante is keeping its lineup under wraps. But he shares his excitement for this year's poster artist, Juan Gatti — the Argentine designer, photographer, and graphic artist who was behind many of Pedro Almodóvar's credit sequences — as well as a bundle of filmmakers.
"We've had many fantastic and wonderful poster artists in our history, including Chuck Jones, Javier Mariscal, and Jean-Marc Calvet, and the new poster will certainly be remembered as one of our most passionate and intricate," Laplante says, "exactly matching my plans for the 2017 edition."