CITIZENFOUR is a ‘Transcendent Experience’ Says MiamiFF’s Veteran Curator

Just over a week ago at MIFFecito, Day 3 opened with the first of two thought-provoking Master Classes: The Art of Curation with Thom Powers (@ThomPowers), manifesting what it takes to be the link between a film and its audience—the curator is the bridge. During the class, veteran curator Thom Powers (documentary programmer for MiamiFF and TIFF) cited Citizenfour, by Academy Award®-nominated director Laura Poitras, as an example of what a film experience should be, stating it was “a transcendent experience that I’m not sure I’ll have again… a movie [like Citizenfour,] brings anticipation and keeps you at the edge of your seat.”

Thom Powers

Internationally renowned film curator Thom Powers

Poitras’ film reveals the first extensive interviews with Edward Snowden after he blew the whistle on the National Security Agency (NSA) and government intrusion. A real life thriller, Citizenfour, is engrossing mainly because we get to see, up very close, the man behind the controversy. “Citizenfour“ was the alias that Snowden used to contact Poitras in January 2013—aware that she had long been a target of government surveillance—and the two corresponded over the course of five months. Once Poitras learned that Snowden didn’t intend to remain an anonymous source, she wanted to understand his motivations and convinced him to allow her to film their face-to-face meeting in a Hong Kong hotel room—along with journalist Glenn Greenwald—resulting in more than 20 hours worth of footage.

Director Laura Poitras, Citizenfour poster

Director Laura Poitras, Citizenfour poster

Citizenfour not only displays the dangers of governmental surveillance, it leaves you feeling vulnerable to them as well. The film opened in five theaters this past weekend, averaging an impressive $25,721 per theater, Indiewire reported yesterday, “With exceptional reviews, sell out crowds and multiple standing ovations. Citizenfour is already on track to become one of the biggest documentaries of the last five years,” Tom Quinn, Co-President, RADiUS said.  Hitting more theaters next weekend, Citizenfour will premiere at Miami Beach Cinematheque Friday, November 21st.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti, Josie Brown

LIFE FEELS GOOD: The Enduring Power of the Human Spirit

LIFEFEELSGOOD3 A true story about a young man suffering from cerebral palsy who struggles to communicate with those around him that he is an intelligent and conscious human being—and the institutional fallacies that treat mental disorders—provide the inspiration for Polish writer-director Maciej Pieprzyca’s award-winning film Life Feels Good (Chce się żyć).  Set in the late ’70s and early ’80s Poland, a cultural climate rife with discrimination, Pieprzyca places the character of Mateusz squarely at his story’s center, serving compelling evidence as to the endurance of the human spirit. Simultaneously heartbreaking and humorous, we feel how tortuous being trapped inside yourself would be, and how damning the surrounding world can be, as Mateusz fights hard to communicate with those around him to prove that he is an intelligent and conscious human being. lifefeelsgoodstrip As a boy (Kamil Tkacz), Mateusz devises a remarkably autonomous method of moving around the apartment, lying on his back and flailing his arms to propel himself backward during his relatively happy childhood. His social instruction is gained by observing neighbors from his window, and while his mother (Dorota Kolak) wheels him around indulging him with love and laughter, it is his quirky father (Arkadiusz Jakubik) who provides Mateusz with an endless flow of cosmic knowledge, which serves to fuel his imagination. LIFEFEELSGOOD4 As he grows into a man, Mateusz’s (David Ogrodnik) attempts to influence the world around him seem to continuously backfire, as he meets endless challenges head-on with soul-stirring determination. Mateusz’s erratic movements and unintelligible sounds register less as symptoms of his illness and more as a language that most simply lack the inventiveness to interpret. A breakthrough occurs after Mateusz joins forces with a teacher of Bliss language, a popular method that serves to engender nonverbal communication, and their collaboration revolutionizes Mateusz’s life. Life Feels Good will have its Florida Premiere at MiamiFF’s mid-season mini festival, MIFFecito, on Sunday, October 19 at 6 PM, at Tower Theater. A reception will follow for all ticket holders at 8 PM; sponsored by The American Institute of Polish Culture and The Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Poland. Visit miamifilmfestival.com or call 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF) for tickets.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Movie-Making Lama’s New Film to Premiere at MIFFecito

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writer/director Khyentse Norbu, Vara: A Blessing poster

While studying in England in the 1990s, Bhutanese lama, filmmaker and writer Khyentse Norbu—considered an incarnation of a famous 19th-century Tibetan spiritual leader who goes by the ecclesiastical title His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche—became a consultant for Bernardo’s Bertolucci’s Little Buddha (1993). Since that experience Norbu was bitten by the filmmaking bug and began seriously watching and studying films, notably those by Indian director Satyajit Ray, whom he admires. A few years later, he wrote and directed The Cup (1999), about a monk who does everything humanly possible to watch the World Cup in a monastery, followed by Travellers & Magicians (2003), the first full-length feature film shot in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, masterfully depicting social change with mystery, passion and magic.

Devesh Ranjan, Shahana Goswami in Vara: A Blessing

Devesh Ranjan, Shahana Goswami in Vara: A Blessing

Norbu’s newest film, Vara: A Blessing—the first English language feature film by a Bhutanese film director—is set to premiere at Miami International Film Festival’s mid-season mini Festival MIFFecito next week. A veritable feast for the senses, Vara: A Blessing is the melodramatic tale of forbidden love between Lila (Shahana Goswami), a Hindi dancer “married” to Krishna, and Shyam (Devesh Ranjan), a low-caste Muslim with dreams of becoming a sculptor.  In a perilous move, Lila accepts Shyam’s invitation to pose for his sculpture of Saraswati, the goddess of art and knowledge.  Complications ensue when the village elders move toward marrying Lila to a wealthy scion. Layered with passion, the film presents ravishing visuals in a beguiling world of love, devotion, and an abundance of traditional Indian dance and music set against the lush countryside of an Indian village that has not yet caught up with the modern world.

The Florida Premiere of Vara: A Blessing on Saturday, October 18 at 7:00 PM will be preceded by a special dance performance by Belly Motions’ Bollywood Girls at MDC’s Tower Theater. Visit miamifilmfestival.com or call 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF) for tickets.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Miamian Roberto Sanchez Returns to his Neighborhood to Present ‘Lake Los Angeles’

Before becoming an actor in 2002 (cast as one of the leads in 2 Fast 2 Furious, the second installment of the Fast and Furious franchise), Havana-born, Miami-raised Roberto Sanchez was a distinguished Desert Storm war veteran (U.S. Navy) and professionally competed in European league basketball. MDC’s Tower Theater, where all MIFFecito films are being screened, was a frequent destination during Roberto’s childhood, where he watched movies, sparking his dream of becoming an actor.

Roberto Sanchez featured in OYE (Open Your Eyes) Magazine; Roberto Sanchez (as Francisco) in a scene from in Lake Los Angeles

Roberto Sanchez featured in OYE (Open Your Eyes) magazine; Roberto Sanchez (as Francisco) in Lake Los Angeles

Today, Roberto is one of the busiest Latino actors in the industry having worked in over 80 projects. His gigs include recurring roles in series such as “The Young and the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives,” “The Bold and the Beautiful,” and numerous episodic guest appearances, including “Desperate Housewives,” “Prison Break,” “Law and Order: LA,” and “The Bridge”.  Sanchez will be in Miami on October 18 and 19 at MIFFecito, not only for a precious trip down memory lane, but also to present the Florida Premiere of Mike Ott’s drama, Lake Los Angelesthe third film of Mike Ott’s Antelope Valley trilogy, following Littlerock (2010) and Pearblossom Hwy (2012).

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Johanna Trujillo (as 10-year-old Cecilia, a Mexican girl with no family to fend for her) in Lake Los Angeles

Roberto’s role as Francisco, a middle-aged Cuban immigrant working at a holding house for undocumented immigrants, allowed him to tap into his Cuban roots and reach an emotional performance that is drawn from the harsh realities that he and his parents encountered coming to this country. Last week, Lake Los Angeles won the Jury Award for Best Feature Film of 2014 at Urbanworld Film Festival in New York—the first time in its 18-year history that a Latino film wins the top prize! View MIFFecito’s full lineup, which runs October 16-19 at MDC’s Tower Theater (1508 SW 8th Street). Visit miamifilmfestival.com or call 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF) for tickets.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

THE GOOD LIE: Hollywood Goes Beyond Entertainment

Last Tuesday night at Regal South Beach Cinemas, Miami Film Society members were treated a special preview screening [view photo gallery]—followed by an illuminating Q&A—of The Good Lie, a drama by Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, writer and director of the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar (featured at MiamiFF29 in 2012). The Good Lie sheds light on the tragic real-life experiences of Sudanese refugees orphaned by war, known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Falardeau’s involvement with the subject began with a documentary assignment in South Sudan cut short by escalating hostilities in 1994. He had the feeling he was abandoning the Sudanese, and that feeling stayed with him until he read Margaret Nagle’s script for The Good Lie.

MiamiFF executive director, Jaie Laplante, actor Kuoth Weil, actor Arnold Oceng, screenwriter Margaret Nagle at Regal South Beach

MiamiFF executive director, Jaie Laplante, actor Kuoth Wiel, actor Arnold Oceng, screenwriter Margaret Nagle at Regal South Beach

The film stars Reese Witherspoon, who portrays an employment agency counselor who helps a group of Lost Boys arriving in Kansas City adjust to American life after they win a lottery for relocation to the U.S.—following 13 years in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. London-based actor Arnold Oceng, who stars as Mamere in the film, was born to a Sudanese mother who fled the war zone with him after his father died when he was two-years-old. During the Q&A, Oceng mentioned his role in the film was essentially a tribute to his father as he “had to open a closed book,” and that it broke his heart not knowing about his Sudanese history. Kuoth Wiel, who plays Mamere’s sister, Abital, lost her father, a doctor, to the civil war in Sudan when she was five. She was born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and her own brother, one of the Lost Boys, walked to Ethiopia and then Kenya before emigrating to the U.S. “I hope that what audiences take away from this is the concept of the story and the universal struggles that we all have to go through as humans.”

Scenes from The Good Lie

Scenes from The Good Lie

The Good Lie is to be released by Warner Bros. in Miami on October 24th, and is going beyond entertainment with The Good Lie Fund—a philanthropic initiative created in conjunction with the Tides Foundation—dedicated to supporting the humanitarian and education needs of the South Sudanese refugees and their communities in the U.S. and internationally. The Good Lie is not really a war story, but one of relationships and the basic need for a family—blood or otherwise—to stick together in order to survive.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

True Love Conquers All in Mariana Chenillo’s “Paradise”

Following her debut feature Nora’s Will (Cinco días sin Nora), award-winning Mexican director-writer Mariana Chenillo returns to MiamiFF to present her second feature film, Paradise (Paraíso) at MIFFecito on Saturday, October 18th at MDC’s Tower Theater. The film’s eponymous paradise (based on a short story) refers to Satélite, the suburb of Mexico City where Carmen (Daniela Rincon) and her husband Alfredo (Andrés Almedia) are from, which is their “paradise,” representing what preceded their departure from the perfect life they had there before they moved to the city as a result of Alfredo’s promotion at work. Testing the stout soul mates’ loving relationship, Paradise draws upon society’s obsession with the perfect body through light-hearted humor yet poignant wit.

Andrés Almeida and Daniela Rincon in Paradise

Andrés Almeida and Daniela Rincon in Paradise

After taking home the Audience Award at MiamiFF26 for Nora’s Will—a dramedy set among believers and non-believers, politicos and pretenders in Mexico City’s Jewish community, who are all forced to confront a chasm of cultural and familial issues with ironic hilarity—Chenillo went on to win the Best Picture Ariel (Mexico’s Oscar equivalent) in 2010, the first female director to be bestowed with this award.

Mariana Chenillo at Regal South Beach at MiamiFF26; scene in Nora's Will

Mariana Chenillo at Regal South Beach at MiamiFF26; scene in Nora’s Will

In a recent Indiewire LatinoBuzz story, Carlos Aguilar’s interview shines a bright light on Chenillo, who has “clearly developed an original voice in the crowded field of modern Mexican cinema that has expanded in recent years, opening spaces for more original stories. She manages to infuse her work with a distinctive female perspective and a peculiar vision of Mexican society. Her latest narrative, Paradise, deals with obesity, insecurities, the quest for the perfect self, and finding fulfillment beyond the superficial.”  Tickets to MIFFecito go on sale to the general public on Thursday, September 18th.  Visit miamifilmfestival.com or call 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF) for tickets.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

MIFFecito Kicks-Off with Eye-Opening “Behavior” Set in Contemporary Cuba

Armando Valdes Freire in Behavior

Armando Valdes Freire in Behavior

Kicking off MIFFecito is director Ernesto Daranas’ second feature film, Behavior (Conducta), an insightful and unvarnished glimpse into contemporary Cuba that has taken the Cuban box office by storm, scoring numerous awards and spurring discussion and debate regarding Cuba’s educational system. Named Best Latin American Film at the 2014 Malaga Film Festival, it captures Cuba’s social reality in all its complexity, and gives a voice to the inherent frustrations and anxieties while still offering some hope for the future.

The story centers on Chala (Armando Valdes Freire), a Havana boy on the cusp of adolescence, who is sent to reform school and becomes the subject of a moral tug-of-war between the different generational ideologies in today’s Cuba. His one solid moral compass is the wise Carmela (veteran Cuban star Alina Rodriguez), his elderly sixth grade teacher. Critics have anointed Behavior as “the one”—the film the Cuban people have been waiting for since Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Oscar-nominated Strawberry and Chocolate (Fresa y Chocolate).

Ball & Chain in the 1930s and today.

Ball & Chain in the 1930s and today

The Florida premiere of Behavior—with director Ernesto Daranas and actor Héctor Noas in attendancescreens on Thursday, October 16 at MDC’s Tower Theater and will be followed by MIFFecito’s Opening Night Party at Ball & Chain bar & lounge—across the street. Join us for a glorious throwback to Miami’s heyday of jazz and gamblers at this historic music club dating back to 1935. You are invited to feast on a delicious selection of traditional Cuban tapas and enjoy libations from Bombay Sapphire Gin and Stella Artois. Tickets go on sale for Miami Film Society members on September 11 and for the general public on September 18. View MIFFecito’s full line up.  — Tatyana Chiocchetti

Carmina y amén tendrá su estreno norteamericano en MIFFecito

Carmina y amén

Carmina y amén

El Miami International Film Festival (MiamiFF) recién anunció la programación del MIFFecito 2014, el “minifestival” de MiamiFF que brindará una degustación preliminar a la trigésimo segunda edición que tendrá lugar del 6 al 15 de marzo del 2015. MIFFecito, con cuatro días de duración, del 16 al 19 de octubre próximos, estrenará diez notables películas y un cortometraje de países como Bután, Cuba, Italia, México, Polonia y España. Uno de los filmes españoles, Carmina y amén, dirigido por Paco León, tendrá su estreno norteamericano en MIFFecito el viernes, 17 de octubre en el Teatro Tower. El actor y director Paco León es un rostro conocido para los cinéfilos de Miami. Su carrera aquí se inició en 2013 con la película Tres bodas de más, proyectada en MiamiFF31.

El año anterior, León creó una encantadora obra sobre la fuerza increíble, el carisma y la personalidad hilarante de su madre, la actriz Carmina Barrios, en Carmina o revienta, que tuvo un éxito inesperado tanto en España como en Miami. En Carmina y amén, secuela filmada en 2014, su nueva película con su madre y su hermana María León (La voz dormida, MiamiFF29), Carmina regresa triunfante, actualizando la original de bajo presupuesto con una pieza más profunda y madura, de superior alcance en su perspectiva sobre la familia, el sexo, la muerte y otros temas dentro del universo de la actriz.

Carmina y amén

Carmina y amén

“Con Carmina y amén quiero evolucionar hacia un lenguaje de cine de ficción sin perder lo auténtico y lo verdadero. Tomar como base todo lo que he aprendido y seguir investigando con la ambición de llevar más lejos aún el “experimento Carmina”. No sólo artísticamente, sino también en la manera de comunicar y construir la película,” expresó el director Paco León. Carmen y amén fue reconocida en la reciente edición del Festival de Málaga Cine Español con la Biznaga de Plata al Mejor Guión para Paco León y con la Biznaga de Plata a la Mejor Actriz de Reparto para Yolanda Ramos.

El Teatro Tower del Miami Dade College será la sede exclusiva de las proyecciones del MIFFecito. Los boletos estarán a la venta para los miembros del Miami Film Society a partir del jueves 11 de septiembre, y para el público en general a partir del jueves 18 de septiembre. Boletos: 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF) o miamifilmfestival.com/miffecito.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

TO KILL A MAN: Vengeance Goes to Sinister Heights

Daniel Candia in To Kill a Man (Matar a un hombre)

Daniel Candia in To Kill a Man (Matar a un hombre)

The impressive rise of Chilean cinema shows no signs of slowing down, and out of the five recently announced Oscar 2015 contenders from Chile for Best Foreign Language Film, three were featured at MiamiFF31 this past March: To Kill a Man (Matar a un hombre), by Alejandro Fernández Almendras; Illiterate (Las analfabetas), by Moisés Sepulveda, and The Summer of Flying Fish (El verano de los peces voladores), by Marcela Said. Alejandro Fernández Almendras’ third feature film, To Kill a Man, took home the MiamiFF31’s Miami Future Cinema Critics Award, as well as the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance 2014, along with extremely positive reactions from critics and audiences.

Variety.com’s Guy Lodge describes To Kill a Man as “A grim, fat-free revenge thriller that extracts an impressive degree of moral equivocation from its exceedingly simple premise.” It is essentially a psychological study on what it means to kill a man—not only delving into what drives a “good” man to kill, but also examining what happens after he does. When gentle middle-aged Jorge (Daniel Candia) chooses to defend his family’s honor by following feeling rather than the law, he lands in a place of ethical ambiguity. After years of tolerating evil “pranks” played on himself and his family and receiving vague assistance from the police, he quietly snaps.

Passive aggression is aggression after all, and, as said by writer-director Alejandro Fernández Almendras in the Q&A after one of two MiamiFF31 screenings, “We’re not made to kill people.” Fernández Almendras plays with the empathy of his audience, as their compassion for a desperate man is stretched until it can go no further. Sinister and sad, To Kill a Man ponders what’s left to do when authorities will no longer help. Fernández Almendras’ raw and impactful thriller reveals what a man is capable of in order to recover the freedom and dignity he and his family have lost once all other options have been spent. To Kill a Man will begin its commercial debut at MDC’s Tower Theater on Friday, August 29th.  —Tatyana Chiocchetti

Showcasing ‘Cinema Do Brasil’ in Miami

Film posters: Vinicius, Bald Mountain, Brazilian Western, Tattoo

Film posters: Vinicius, Bald Mountain, Brazilian Western, Tattoo

Sunday night, at the 18th edition of the Brazilian Film Festival of Miami (which runs through August 24th in South Beach), aka BRAFF, Vinicius de Moraes, Brazil’s famous poet, composer and playwright was the focus of a 100th anniversary tribute. Vinicius is internationally known as lyricist of the bossa nova classic “The Girl From Ipanema”, and writer of the original play which inspired the film Black Orpheus (1959). The evening featured a screening of Miguel Faria Jr.’s documentary, Vinicius (which held its North American premiere at MiamiFF23), celebrating Vinicius’ life and work through a penetrating mix of performance, storytelling, and biography.

Scene from Bald Mountain (Serra Pelada)

Scene from Bald Mountain (Serra Pelada)

Another major highlight of this year’s BRAFF is Heitor Dhalia’s multi-award-nominated film, Bald Mountain (Serra Pelada), which will screen at Colony Theatre on Thursday 8/21 at 9:40 PM. Set against a real-life, ’80s Amazon gold rush which spawned the largest open-air gold mine in the world in Serra Pelada (270 miles south of the mouth of the Amazon River), best friends Juliano and Joaquim leave Rio de Janeiro to try their luck like thousands of poor men across the country. Inevitably, life at the mine changes everyone and everything, resulting in an epic tale of power and greed, ultimately destroying a friendship and the environment. The film is a treasured project for Heitor Dhalia, another MiamiFF alumnus best remembered for his outstanding film Drained (O Cheiro do Ralo) which screened at MiamiFF24 in 2007.

Scene from Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo)

Scene from Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo)

Next week, the 13th edition of the Brazilian “Oscars” (Grande Prêmio do Cinema Brasileiro), presented by the Brazilian Film Academy (Academia Brasileira de Cinema) takes place on August 26th at the Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro. Bald Mountain shares the lead with Rene Sampaio’s Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo, featured at MiamiFF31) with 13 nominations each. Also topping the list of Brazilian Oscar nominations is Hilton Lacerda’s Tattoo (Tatuagem, also featured at MiamiFF31) with eight noms including Best Feature, Best Director, Best Actor.   —Tatyana Chiocchetti