Gael García Bernal: The Eyes Have It

by Jaie Laplante, Executive Director & Director of Programming

Gael García Bernal in The Ardor

Gael García Bernal in Ardor

“Two of the most insanely watchable actors in movies right now – [Gael García] Bernal and Javier Bardem – are both Hispanic…part of an important shift, long overdue…The source of Bernal’s appeal could not be purer: we can’t take our eyes off his eyes.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

What makes Gael García Bernal “insanely watchable” is his consistent intelligence and unpredictability in his selection of projects and roles. For every high-profile, Cannes-winning and Oscar-nominated film such as Pablo Larrain’s No (2012) or the new hit Amazon TV series “Mozart in the Jungle”, Bernal will work on such intriguing and risky smaller projects such as Julia Loktev’s lovely The Loneliest Planet (2011), or Participant Media’s new “machete Western”, Ardor (opening Friday July 17th in Miami at MDC’s Tower Theater and at O Cinema Miami Beach).

Directed by Argentine Pablo Fendrik, Ardor is a vivid, sometimes even lurid, impressionistically ornate Western, in the over-the-top mythic fashion of Sergio Leone’s deliberate mix of artifice and hyper-realism in his Spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. Bernal plays Kaí, who mysteriously appears out of the rainforest when a group of mercenaries (led by Claudio Tolachir) ransack a poor farm, murdering the patriarch Joao and kidnapping the beautiful young daughter Vania, played by Alicia Braga (City of God, I Am Legend).diptic

Participant Media is a leading media company “dedicated to entertainment that inspires and compels social change”. In financing Ardor (made possible by Bernal’s star wattage on the marquee), the company is clearly trying to dramatically address the issue of South American rain forest devastation by unchecked human economic plundering.

Gael García Bernal holds the ambition of Ardor together. As Anthony Lane observed, what Bernal holds in his eyes and behind his eyes at any given moment captures entire spectrums of conflicts in a single look. In Ardor, those Bernal eyes burn with furor over indignant injustices, all the while suggesting that his rage may in fact be intensified by awareness of a culpability within. Ardor is a slow-burning, heavily symbolic journey that is not for everyone; but those who give themselves over to Bernal and this sweaty, infested vision of environmental perdition will shudder with haunted worry. – Jaie Laplante

Gael Garcia Bernal and Brazilian producer Vania Catani (top); Bernal, Braga, Tolcachir, Fendrik and Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux at the world premiere in Cannes. Photographs by Jaie Laplante.

Gael Garcia Bernal and Brazilian producer Vania Catani (top); Bernal, Braga, Tolcachir, Fendrik and Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux at the world premiere of Ardor in Cannes. Photographs by Jaie Laplante.

An American Epic For Troubled Times

By Jaie Laplante, Executive Director & Director of Programming

As Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival alumnus Stanley Nelson (Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice in 2005; Freedom Riders in 2011) told moderator Thom Powers at a sold-out AFI DOCS audience this past weekend, when he first floated the idea of making a definitive history of the Black Panther Party (1966-1982), the general response was, “‘Aren’t there already enough films about the Black Panthers?'” To which he responded, “‘Which ones are those?'”

Stanley Nelson.

Stanley Nelson.

History and memory are notoriously slippery. That’s what makes Stanley Nelson’s work so important. Nelson’s newest film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, succeeds at creating a deep, complex, detailed examination of a movement that is in danger of being dismissed in our hazy collective consciousness as a somewhat extremist, fringe, violence-oriented movement that ultimately imploded, leaving other Civil Rights movement leaders carrying the torch of successful change into history. With that sense of successful change feeling more precarious than ever, The Black Panthers (opening theatrically in the fall, and scheduled to air on PBS in early 2016) has an even stronger contemporary resonance.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution asks: what ideas are still valid and in need of pursuit, and which mistakes could be avoided again? With a pitch-perfect opening sequence, Nelson begins his film by noting that a singular definition of the BPP would prove impossible – and proceeds to weave together extraordinary archival footage with stories retold by those who lived the events, keeping us grounded to a strong sense of the sequence of time and events, creating nothing short of an American epic.

Early sequences from 1966 focus on legally-armed BPP members following around Oakland, CA police patrols to “watch them” for harassment of black citizens – an idea of accountability finding a contemporary application in the increasing calls for mandatory body-cam video recorders for police officers across the nation. When a BPP leader, Bobby Seale, ran for Mayor of Oakland in 1973, the BPP team worked to register tens of thousands of disenfranchised black residents to vote, and galvanized the community to participate in the democratic process – a struggle that is still being repeated in communities throughout the country today.

Archival footage in The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

Archival footage in The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

At the same time, Nelson carefully charts the troublesome aspects of leader Huey P. Newton‘s personality, and how the BPP largely unravelled by creating a cult of personality around their long-jailed frontman. When intense pressure eventually got Newton released, it wasn’t long before BPP discovered that they had put the power in the hands of someone that a former BPP member unreservedly declares was “a psychopath”. BPP’s main spokesperson, Eldrige Cleaver, described in the film as a “loose cannon”, significantly set back the movement when he chose to use violence aggressively rather than only in self-defense. And fueled by the high-powered emotions of frustration and anger, the BPP failed to discover that its own head of security was operating the entire time as an informant for the FBI, who wished to destroy the movement.

AFI DOCS is hitting a powerful stride only three years into its rebranding, relocation to the heart of D.C. (screenings take place just off Pennsylvania Avenue, between The White House and Capitol Hill), and program focus on subjects significant to the nation’s policymakers. There is nothing like art to bring passion to the people, and there is much to be said for raising pulses so close to the decision-makers. Collaborating with the National Archives of the United States on their annual Guggenheim Symposium, AFI DOCS further chose to honor Stanley Nelson for his entire body of work. The honor, and screenings of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, could not have been more timely.

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Julie Taymor’s Immersive, Inventive Cinematic Experience

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This coming week in Miami, the visionary theatrical, operatic and cinematic talent Julie Taymor delivers her latest cinematic/theatrical hybrid opus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Taymor, winner of two Tonys for her Broadway production of The Lion King, has previously directed the feature films Titus (99), Frida (02), Across the Universe (07) and The Tempest (10). Miami International Film Festival‘s senior documentary programmer Thom Powers brought the international premiere of the film to last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and had this to say about it at the time:

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the most phantasmagorical, with fairies, spells, and hallucinatory lovers. His flights of fancy are well matched to the talents of Julie Taymor, who turns out a production that’s visually breathtaking, funny, sexy, and darkly poetic.

With cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (Argo, Frida) and music by Academy Award- winning composer Elliot Goldenthal, this immersive, inventive cinematic experience was filmed last fall during Taymor’s highly acclaimed inaugural stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the new Polonsky Center in Brooklyn. The intimacy of the performance is heightened through the use of hand-held cameras placed amid the action onstage.

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Characteristic of Taymor, the feats of visual imagination are ingenious and plentiful, but beating at the centre of the film is an emotionally moving take on the deeper human aspects of this beloved tale. The performances are stellar; one revelation for many viewers will be the casting of Kathryn Hunter as Puck. The actor has won critical acclaim mainly on the London stage, with a notable screen appearance as Arabella Figg in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As an androgynous and transformational Puck, she is a mesmerizing presence.

Taymor has gone from experimental theatre to rejuvenating the Broadway musical with The Lion King, while repeatedly taking risks on films from Frida and Across the Universe to Titus and The Tempest. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she displays her creative powers in their peak form.” – Thom Powers

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will screen ONLY TWICE at MDC’s Tower Theater (see trailer) in a dazzlingly 4K, Dolby 5.1 surround sound experience. Showtimes are next Sunday, June 21st at 4pm and Monday, June 22nd at 7:15pm. Tickets are going fast and are available here.

Ezra Miller, on the Cusp of Major Stardom

By Jaie Laplante, Executive Director & Director of Programming

The 22-year-old actor Ezra Miller invigorates two summer movies opening over the next month. In Sophie Barthes’ well-toned new adaptation of the classic Flaubert novel Madame Bovary, opening this Friday, Miller cuts a startlingly contemporary figure out of Bovary’s student-clerk lover Leon Dupuis. In Miami-born filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s disturbing reenactment of the 1971 real-life The Stanford Prison Experiment, releasing in July, it’s Miller’s insouciant Daniel Culp that is the blistering, smelling-salt warning for the audience that something is going to go very, very wrong.

Ezra Miller (2nd from left), in The Stanford Prison Experiment

Miami audiences were treated to Miller’s talent from the very beginning of his career. He appeared in back-to-back Festivals, starring as a disturbed elite boarding school student in Antonio Campos’ Afterschool (2009 Knight World Competition), and then playing Andy Garcia’s obsessed-with-overweight-women young teenage son in City Island, a Gala hit at our 2010 Festival. Miller gained international attention as the psychotic teenage problem child in Lynne Ramsey’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011), which played in the Official Competition at Cannes Film Festival, and a touching supporting role in Stephen Chbosky’s screen adaptation of his own hit young adult novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, followed in 2012.

In all six of these films, Miller demonstrates a magnetism and charisma that unquestionably marks him as a movie star. He projects a strong, confident physicality and an easy-going nature that suggests fluidity with amicable connection; in quieter moments, he reveals an almost feline vulnerability that both sexes equally truckle toward. The actor’s comfort with his off-screen sexuality (he came out as “queer” to media at the age of 19) undoubtedly contributes to the direct, honest quality of his on-screen persona (even when playing the psychotic Kevin).

Ezra Miller, with Mia Wasikowska, in the new screen adaptation of Madame Bovary.

In Madame Bovary, the concern and care with which he infuses the young Leon, especially when it is clear that his lover Emma is not at all well, mark a complex youthful maturity. Perhaps more than any other actor in the excellent cast, Miller seems to stay effortlessly in the period while most reflecting Barthes’ contemporary psychological parallels in her effort to refresh the tale for 2015.

In The Stanford Prison Experiment, which is not a movie about human evil, but rather how quickly people will believe something to be real that they know is not real, it makes perfect sense that Miller’s character is of the strongest mind, the most unshakable sense of self, the least likely to succumb as easily as his fellow students do to the controversial techniques of Dr. Philip Zimbardo.

In recognition of Ezra Miller’s outstanding talent, Warner Bros and Marvel Comics have recently announced Miller’s first major starring role will be in the 2018 big-screen adaptation of The Flash.

Chile is Winner of Cannes’ First Documentary Award

By Jaie Laplante, Executive Director & Director of Programming

Amidst grumblings that the world’s most important film gathering in Cannes disparages the documentary genre (only five documentaries have appeared in the Official Competition in the past 40 years) , France’s national Civil Society of Multimedia Authors this year initiated L’Oeil d’or, a new award to highlight documentary cinema playing across all three of the simultaneous festivals (Cannes Film Festival – all sections, Director’s Fortnight, and Critic’s Week).

In an important and symbolic step, the L’Oeil d’or award was legitimized by recognition from the main Festival’s director, Thierry Fremaux. Fourteen films were eligible for adjudication by a five-member jury, this year headed by Franco-Cambodian documentarian and recent Oscar nominee, Rithy Panh (The Missing Picture).

A still from Beyond My Grandfather Allende.

A still from Beyond My Grandfather Allende.

On the next-to-final day of the Festival, the jury unveiled Chilean-Mexican filmmaker Marcia Tambutti Allende’s Beyond My Grandfather Allende (Allende, Mi Abuelo Allende) as the inaugural winner of the new prize. Marcia Tambutti is the granddaughter of the Chile president Salvador Allende, who committed suicide in 1973 inside the presidential palace when military forces led by Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government in a coup d’etat that lasted 15 years.

An iconic portrait of Salvador Allende.

An iconic portrait of Salvador Allende.

Programmed in the Director’s Fortnight, Tambutti’s film is deeply personal, and gingerly addresses old wounds that have never really healed – first in her family, but (as the film gradually makes clear) in the country as a whole. Even as Tambutti attempts to engage her ailing grandmother (Allende’s wife), her own mother, her cousins and other family members and friends of family members, she meets much resistance, many attempts to deflect. The truth is that this is far from a comfortable subject, but ultimately a necessary one for all generations involved.

Tambutti’s skill and sensitivity in negotiating this difficult path – to constantly probe, but never to disrespect boundaries – is what makes the movie work. As much a subject of the film as its objective observer, it is harrowing emotional territory for Tambutti, but part of the road to freedom that she and all Chileans are still walking down.

Argentina Wins Big In Critic’s Week (CANNES)

By Jaie Laplante, Executive Director & Director of Programming

Santiago Mitre, director, at 2012 Miami International Film Festival.

The 34-year-old Argentine filmmaker Santiago Mitre made a big impact in the Critic’s Week at Cannes last week with his second feature, La patota (which will be titled Paulina for the international markets). Mitre’s follow-up to The Student (which he presented at our Festival in 2012) is on one level a fascinating story about a woman’s choices. Just like The Student, however, an allegory for a much broader portrait of his country’s complicated political soul is unmistakably in the air.

Smart and sophisticated, the headstrong Ph.D. law candidate Paulina (the incredible Dolores Fonzi) is driven not to make a name for herself in Buenos Aires but to bring the force of her considerable personality to bear on a tense situation in a rural northern extreme of the country, next to the Paraguayan border. She sees the poor and disadvantaged residents (many of them aboriginal) as victims of exploitation and alienation, and is determined to educate the area’s youth about the political process, in the hopes of firing them up about their own potential power to change the system.

Paulina’s noble intentions as teacher of a political workshop class in a low-income high school collide with a generation too disaffected to hear anything she is saying. Instead of ideas, the atmosphere is seething with carnality and violence, and Paulina is in the wrong place at the wrong time when Ciro (Cristian Salguero), a local laborer, jilted by a girl he wishes to dominate, rapes Paulina in a case of mistaken identity.

Dolores Fonzi in Paulina

Dolores Fonzi in Paulina

And this is where Mitre’s bristling film shifts audiences into a whole new gear of arousal. Paulina recovers from her physical wounds in a few days, and makes the choice to not identify herself as a victim – insisting upon returning to the school to continue on with her lessons (a.k.a., her crusade). Paulina’s father Fernando (Oscar Martinez), a local judge, and her long-term boyfriend (Esteban Lamothe) are shocked and bewildered; moreso when Paulina admits later that the “secret in the eyes” of some of her male students who are in Ciro’s patota (gang) have made clear to her the identity of her attackers. And Paulina’s fellow women colleagues at the school become wary and uncomfortable.  If rape has no consequence, what future deterrent is there from unchecked masculine ego, acting out in rage at its own impotency in a harsh landscape?

Mitre and co-writer Mariano Llinas (winner of our Knight Grand Jury Iberoamerican prize in 2009, for Extraordinary Stories) expertly balance our sympathies among the characters, shifting perspectives between Paulina, Ciro, Fernando and (briefly) some of Paulina’s students; the result is an emotional powerkeg scenario. Paulina’s high-minded ideals rattle the audience like spitting firecrackers – her admirably selfless goals become impossibly entangled and inseparable from her stoically self-centered ones.

At the end of last week, the Critic’s Week jury led by Israeli filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz awarded Paulina their Grand Prize from the 54th edition’s seven nominees, and this high-profile win in Cannes is a great beginning for this impressive film. A deserved run of a good number of the world’s prestige festivals, and healthy returns in Argentina (where the film opens in theaters on June 18th), seem assured.

Directors’ Fortnight Selects Three Miami Alums

A parallel festival created by the French Directors Guild, Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) seeks to aid filmmakers and contribute to their discovery by critics and audiences alike. The 2015 program includes 19 feature-length films, culled from 1,623 submissions, with three new works by Miami alumni Jaco Van Dormael, Ciro Guerra, and Fernando León de Aranoa.

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director Jaco van Dormael, The Brand New Testament

Twenty-four years after winning the Camera d’Or for Toto the Hero (1991) Belgian-born writer/director Jaco van Dormael—previously in Miami with The Eighth Day in 1997 and Toto the Hero in 1992—returns to Cannes to present his latest work, The Brand New Testament (Le tout nouveau testament). In his first full screenwriting collaboration on a feature—with Thomas Gunzig—The Brand New Testament is a religious satire in which God lives in Brussels and accidentally sets off a panic after his disgruntled daughter leaks the apocalyptic plans he had stored on his computer. Did you catch that? God is alive, with a daughter, and stores His secrets on a computer! Catherine Deneuve, in Miami this past March with 3 Hearts and In the Name of My Daughter, also appears in the film.

A Perfect Day poster, Amador actress Magaly Solier and Fernando León de Aranoa in Miami

A Perfect Day;  Amador actress Magaly Solier and Fernando León de Aranoa in Miami

Goya Award-winning Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa—previously in Miami with Amador in 2011; Invisibles (co-directed with Isabel Coixet, Mariano Barroso, Wim Wenders, and Javier Corcuera) in 2008; and Mondays in the Sun (Los lunes al sol) in 2003—marks his English language debut at the Fortnight with A Perfect Day. The dramedy, set in an armed conflict-zone somewhere in the Balkans, involves a group of aid workers who attempt to resolve a crisis following a cease-fire. The film stars Benicio Del Toro, Tim Robbins and Olga Kurylenko and is one of the few Spanish-directed titles premiering anywhere in Cannes.

Embrace of the Serpent poster, director Ciro Guerra

Embrace of the Serpent; director Ciro Guerra

Latin America has a limited presence in Cannes this year, but Colombian writer/director Ciro Guerra is participating with Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente). Guerra’s new film, a follow-up to his Cannes (2009) and Miami (2010) hit The Wind Journeys (Los viajes del viento), is an Amazon-set drama inspired by the journals of German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg, and American Richard Evans Schultes, a renowned pioneer researcher into indigenous peoples’ use of plants. It is visually mesmerizing. The adventure, featuring knockout black-and-white cinematography, recounts the life-transcending friendship, between Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman, last survivor of his people, and two scientists that, over the course of 40 years, travel through the Amazon in search of a sacred plant that can heal them. The Amazon’s history has been so tough for the indigenous inhabitants that their reply has been silence—this film gives them a voice. The Directors’ Fortnight runs May 14–24 — view full program.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

A Miami Alumni Reunion at Cannes

AP_photo:_Lupita_Nyong'o The 68th Cannes Film Festival kicked off today with a grand display haute couture, none more striking than the vibrant, jaw-dropping dress worn by Lupita Nyong’o, who shared the following on her Instagram feed: "It's #GrasshopperGreen for @festivaldecannes opening night. Thank you @Chopard @Gucci and Uganda's women for the hair inspiration. #NseneneSeason #cannes2015.”

AP_photo: The 68th Cannes Film Festival kicked off  with a grand display haute couture, none more striking than the vibrant, jaw-dropping dress worn by Lupita Nyong’o, who shared the following on her Instagram feed: “It’s #GrasshopperGreen for @festivaldecannes opening night. Thank you @Chopard @Gucci and Uganda’s women for the hair inspiration. #NseneneSeason #cannes2015.”

The 68th Cannes Film Festival has begun. This year’s Official Selection includes a total of 53 features, with the Competition and Un Certain Regard lineups unspooling 19 titles each. Festival director Thierry Frémaux and his screening committee opted to introduce some new talent into the competition while placing several regular Palme contenders, including Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival (Miami) alumni Argentine-born French director Gaspar Noé, in non-competing slots.

There is only one title from a Latin American director in competition this year: Chronic, by Mexican helmer Michel Franco (After Lucia, Miami30). This English-language drama stars Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), who was president of the Un Certain Regard jury that awarded its top prize to Franco’s After Lucia in 2012.

Sicario poster; director Denis Villeneuve at Olympia Theater at MIFF28

Sicario poster; director Denis Villeneuve at Olympia Theater in Miami (2011)

This year there is an impressive list of eleven Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival alumni directors competing with their new films at Cannes:

  • CHRONIC, by Michel Franco — previously in Miami with Después de Lucia (After Lucia) in 2013
  • DHEEPAN by Jacques Audiard — previously in Miami with See How They Fall in 1995
  • IL RACCONTO DEI RACCONTI (Tale of Tales), by Matteo Garrone — previously in Miami with Reality in 2013, La fura in vivo 2009, and Primo amore (First Love) in 2005
  • THE LOBSTER, by Yorgos Lanthimos — previously in Miami with  Alps in 2012
  • LOUDER THAN BOMBS, by Joachim Trier — previously in Miami with Oslo, August 31st in 2012
  • MARGUERITE & JULIEN, by Valérie Donzelli — previously in Miami with  Main sans la main (Hand in Hand) in 2013
  • MIA MADRE (My Mother), by Nanni Moretti — previously in Miami with  The Opening Day of Close Up in 1997
  • SHAN HE GU REN (Mountains May Depart), by Jia Zhan Ke — previously in Miami with Er Shi Si Cheng Ji (24 City) in 2009
  • SICARIO, by Denis Villeneuve — previously in Miami with Incendies in 2011
  • THE SEA OF TREES, by Gus Van Sant — previously in Miami with “8” in 2009
  • UMIMACHI DIARY (Our Little Sister), by Kore-Eda Hirokazu — previously in Miami with  Daremo Shiranai (Nobody Knows) in 2005
Matteo Garrone at MDC's Tower Theater at MIFF30;

Matteo Garrone at Regal South Beach, Miami (2013); Tale of Tales poster

The Un Certain Regard lineup at Cannes includes new works by two Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival alumni directors:

  • KISHIBE NO TABI (Journey to the Shore), by Kurosawa Kiyoshi — previously in Miami with Cure in 2001
  • TAKLUB, by Brillante Mendoza — previously in Miami with Tirador (Slingshot) in 2008, Kinatay, and Lola in 2010

Argentine-born French filmmaker Gaspar Noé—previously in Miami with as co-director of 7 Days in Havana in 2013, “8” in 2009, and director of Irreversible in 2003—has been given a midnight screening for his latest, Love, a sexually explicit 3D film involving a love triangle that some are anticipating to be the raciest to ever screen at the festival.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Albert Maysles’ Final Film Explores Iris Apfel’s Style

Albert Maysles

Albert Maysles

Stepping into the vault during the Festival’s 29th edition in 2012, a retrospective screening of Islands on 16mm was held at Coral Gables Art Cinema—offering a fascinating time capsule of Miami during a time of transition. The 1986 film, by legendary documentarian filmmakers, the Maysles brothers, and editor Charlotte Zwerin, followed artists Christo and Jean-Claude behind the scenes as they overcame local resistance to realize their “Surrounded Islands” dream—a grandiose project that surrounded eleven of the spoil islands situated in Miami’s Biscayne Bay in 1983 with 6.5 million square feet of floating pink woven polypropylene fabric.

Former Miami-Dade County commissioner Ruth Shack recalls her memories of Christo project at Coral Gables Art Cinema (2012), "Surrounded Islands" in Miami's Biscayne Bay

Former Miami-Dade County commissioner Ruth Shack recalls her memories of Christo project at Coral Gables Art Cinema (2012), “Surrounded Islands” in Miami’s Biscayne Bay

The Maysles brothers, Albert (1026–2015) and David (1931–1987) are recognized as pioneers of “direct cinema,” the distinctly American version of French “cinema vérité.” Albert Maysles, known for his “fly on the wall” type of filmmaking, created groundbreaking films, for more than five decades—placing his fate and faith in reality, the provider of subjects, themes, and experiences—all endowed with the power of truth and the romance of discovery.  Just days before his final film, Iris, [view trailer] screened at the Festival’s 32nd edition this past March, Albert passed on following a brief battle with cancer.

Iris Apfel; Q&A at O Cinema Miami Beach

Iris Apfel; Q&A at O Cinema Miami Beach

In Iris, Albert Maysles trails nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel—hired by nine presidents for White House restorations—brilliantly capturing decades of wisdom by the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed style maven. Albert’s characteristic panache gives the film such an extraordinary sense of surrealism, it feels as if Iris’ larger than life personality could only exist within the realm of a film. In the documentary feature, we see Apfel mingle with Bruce Weber, Jenna Lyons, and Kanye West, while behind the closed doors of her Park Avenue apartment she quietly grapples with old age. “Fashion, she says, never keeps her up at night. Matters of health and things like that [do].”

In the current issue of Allure magazine, Apfel shares her secret to aging gracefully: “Don’t show your décolletage or wear low backs or spike heels that you can’t balance on. If you’re 80, I don’t care what you do with yourself, you’re never going to look 20. Worrying about getting old is the kiss of death; you have to be busy and stay engaged. You cannot be interesting if you’re not interested.” Iris opens in Miami on Friday, May 8 at MDC’s Tower Theater and O Cinema Wynwood. —Tatyana Chiocchetti

The Poet of Havana: Reconciling Generations

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Carlos Varela, The Poet of Havana

Although Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Varela (Havana, 1963) travels the world as a cultural ambassador, he is always an Habanero, tied to his city with pride and passion. Both rocker and troubadour, Varela’s controversial songs about frustration and yearning for freedom have made him an icon to his country’s youth, even though he’s not a kid anymore. “Carlos Varela is something many people don’t think can exist in Cuba—an independent voice,” says Ned Sublette, whose QBADISC label released Varela’s “Monedas Al Aire” in 1993.

Varela’s first visit to Miami came in 1998 where he performed at a Songwriters showcase at Park Central Hotel in South Beach. Many saw the fact that Varela could play without incident in Miami as a significant turning point at the time. The next night, Varela performed at a private home for about 200 guests, many among the wave of Cuban artists, musicians, and filmmakers who arrived here in the early ‘90s. “Sing without fear!” someone shouted as Varela started to strum. “Fear?” Varela responded, “I play without fear in Cuba. Why should I be afraid here?”

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At Olympia Theater’s Gusman Center (Miami, 2010): Carlos Varela; on stage with Diana Fuentes

In a 2001 documentary Great Day in Havana, by Laurie Ann Schag and Casey Stoll, Varela is one of 11 artists celebrated in the film—all of whom reveal and reflect on Cuba’s precarious political climate, it’s African heritage, the ironies of a purportedly socialist country living off tourism, and how to live with dignity in the face of the U.S. embargo in the 1990s. In 2010, the first time that Varela’s whole band was granted visas to visit the U.S., they performed at Olympia Theater’s Gusman Center as part of a tour that included Playboy Jazz Festival in L.A., the Bluenote Jazz Festival in N.Y., and the Clearwater Summer Festival. Varela and the band returned to Miami in 2013 for a moving concert performance at Miami Dade-County Auditorium.

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l to r: Jackson Browne, Manny Alvarez and Carlos Varela (Havana, Cuba 2008)

A veteran of censorship battles with the Cuban government, Varela’s emotionally charged songs—raw, metaphoric chronicles of contemporary Cuban life—have drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan’s work. For his 2014 Standing in the Breach recording and tour, Jackson Browne translated Varela’s “Muros y puertas” (“Walls and Doors”), which addresses how polarized we are as a society—evident in the song’s refrain, “There can be freedom only when nobody owns it.”

Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival invites you to enter Carlos Varela’s world as he celebrates his 30th anniversary in poignant performances. The Festival’s next monthly screening series will feature The Poet of Havana on Thursday, May 7 at MDC’s Tower Theater (1508 SW 8th St., Little Havana) at 7:00 PM, with writer/director Ron Chapman & Carlos Varela in the house for a post-screening Q&A. Free for Miami Film Society members. $13 general public. [ Tickets ]

You may also catch Varela on Friday, May 8 [ Tickets ] at Flamingo Theater Bar (905 Brickell Bay Drive, Miami) Carlos Varela (Intimo) in Miami concert presented by Vedado Social Club.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti