This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Miami International Film Festival and during a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower in downtown Miami the program for the 10- day event beginning Mar. 1 was announced.
Miami Dade College, which now owns the Freedom Tower (the former Miami News building), produces and presents the festival that has grown steadily over the years. After a video montage of vintage news reports of past festivals, MIFF executive director Jaie Laplante announced that there would be 117 feature films, including many world, North American and U.S. premieres.
For the first time in MIFF history, the festival will open and close with documentary features, Twenty Feet from Stardom directed by Morgan Neville and Venus and Serena directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major.
“The fact that these were two of the most compelling, overwhelming, joyous films that were in our program made them natural selections to be in our gala and conclusion,” Laplante said.
The festival films will be presented at two historic landmarks, the Gusman Center Olympia Theater and MDC’s Tower Theater, as well as at Coral Gables Art Cinema, O Cinema, Regal South Beach and Miami Beach Cinematheque.
It is estimated that the annual festival attracts more than 70,000 audience members and more than 400 filmmakers, producers, talent and industry professionals. There are six competition categories with many films vying for awards in documentary, dramatic and other divisions
A guest at the press conference was Ruth Shack, who served three terms on the Metro- Dade County Commission in the 1970s and ’80s, and who sat on the original MIFF board of directors in the festival’s first year, 1984. She remembered how extraordinary that was.
“The sheer audacity of the idea blew us all away,” Shack said. “Miami’s modern history has been short, and clearly the film festival was one of the most audacious, one of the most visionary and one of the most exciting concepts to come along. There was skepticism that the film festival would last, but I think others would agree with me that the sheer joy of having made it 30 years later is rather remarkable.”
Laplante asked her what the highlights were for her of that very first film festival.
“It was the people involved,” Shack said.
“It was having people come from other communities to ours to look around, to see some of these films that were being shown and to recognize us as a player in a field that we really knew very little about.” Laplante acknowledged that it has not always been smooth sailing for the festival, even in more recent years, but even though there have been some challenges, “we’re in a very good place here.”
Shack agreed, noting that when MDC took the helm, it made a difference.
“When the college stood up and said ‘we will be a part of this exciting adventure,’ I think we all had a great relief that it was going to survive,”Shack said. “Here was an organization with a stellar reputation in the community and an interest in not only film but how film was made. It made me feel a whole lot better.”
MIFF will bestow Career Achievement awards to Academy Award-winning director Fernando Trueba and Academy Award-nominated director Lasse Hallström, best known for his film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. River Phoenix’s last movie, Dark Blood, will make its North American premiere at the festival.
“If you’re not at the movies every day in the first 10 days of March, you’re in the wrong place,” Laplante said.
Shack added, “I think it’s going to be an extraordinary festival.”
For tickets and information visit www.miamifilmfestival.com or call 305- 405-MIFF (6433).