Let’s get right to the point: a new movie featuring Gloria Estefan will be premiering at this year’s Miami Film Festival. Yes, the “Conga” singer is returning to the big screen in a film produced by Emilio and focused on a curmudgeonly old white dude who may have to learn a lesson or two about the changing demographic of his Central Florida town before the credits roll. But even if the promise of bumping into Miami musical royalty at the annual fest doesn’t excite you, this year’s organizers have assembled enough features, events, and seminars to keep cinephiles and would-be filmmakers busy. In addition to its buzzy slate of films, the festival boasts a star-studded list of guests who will be hosting workshops and talks in support of their various projects.
Look out for Richard Gere, who stars in the Opening Night film Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer; be sure to nab tickets to “An Evening with Rossy de Palma,” where the Almodóvar muse is sure to dish more on her work with the famed Spanish auteur; and even stop by to see what Rashida Jones and her Miami collaborators have to say about their upcoming Netflix series, Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. And finally, if you want some industry insights, you can check out panel discussions like “Learn From The Best: An Oscar-Winning Mentor” with The Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel and first-time director Xavier Manrique. We know it’s a shame to waste Miami’s sunshine by being inside a theater, but this year’s fest will make it worth your while – we promise.
True to form, this year’s festival offers audiences a chance to see films from all over the Americas. And so, whether you want to watch the largest Bahamian production in history; an ambitious multilingual film set in Canada, Mexico, and Colombia; a New York-set family drama; or an intriguing documentary on an all-girls orphanage in Honduras, there’s no shortage options for you to choose from. Check out our top picks below.
The Miami Film Festival runs March 3–12, 2017
A Filipino woman has recently moved to Montreal with her grandmother. A Mexican man has left his indigenous community behind and now lives in Mexico City. A Colombian fisherman in Buenaventura hopes to distance himself from the rural criminal gang life he’s left behind. Three stories of newcomers and immigrants are woven together in this striking multicultural film that tackles (in Mazahua, Tagalog, French, English, and Spanish, no less!) what it means to deal with the violence and loss around you in a foreign land. Colorfully depicting Canada, Mexico, and Colombia, X500 goes global by focusing on the local, immersing audiences in these disparate but ultimately similar stories around the world.
Jeffrey has all the makings of a heartwarming tale: its protagonist is a twelve year old boy trying to get by in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He works as a windshield washer and, in his spare time, recruits his older brother to help him record the reguetón songs he composes about his own life. To get to know Jeffrey as we do (following him in the heat-filled traffic on the streets, in the modest living quarters he shares with his family, and in the quiet spot up a tree where he decompresses) is to see the beauty of documentary filmmaking at its best. At times, Yanillys Perez’s feature project almost feels like a narrative film: that’s how carefully constructed it is and how engaging her rapport is with the young powerhouse of a performer.
A young family temporarily relocates for the father’s professorship, and an estranged cousin is recruited to house-sit. Martin, the cousin, is a peculiar, brooding, scruffy man. Eager to go, the family dismisses any doubts they have and leave the house in Martin’s care. Left to his own devices, Martin listlessly chain-smokes and goes through Bruno’s personal things. When Martin wanders out, he encounters an attractive single mother. He brings her to the house where he poses as a divorcee who doesn’t get to see his daughter. They get hot and heavy, and soon Martin starts to play father figure to her son, turning their casual fling into domestic bliss, all while seemingly oblivious to the family’s imminent return. Family Life intrepidly weaves together the perspectives of a couple nobly navigating their family doldrums, and Martin, a drifter seizing a short-term lease on family life. Chile’s most original filmmakers, director Alicia Scherson and co-director Christián Jiménez, team up to knock out an unconventional and profound study of living vicariously in this aloof, melancholy comedy.
Sin muertos no hay carnaval
Looking at the social tensions in Guayaquil, Sebastián Cordero crafts this unflinching drama about the conflict between a wealthy young man and the 250 families who are squatting in the territory he’s just inherited from his father. Aiming for a sleek thriller aesthetic rooted in the broken down neighborhoods of Guayaquil, Cordero’s film reveals the violence and corruption that unfortunately echoes what the film’s English title promises us: “Such is the life in the Tropics.”
Stories can imbue our lives with meaning and order; they can also be our undoing. Fenton, a promising young writer, is reeling from the latter effect: he lost his girlfriend Jessie after The New Yorker published his thinly veiled story about her family. And when Fenton returns to New York after a year away he finds that time hasn’t healed the wound in his favour: Jessie is engaged to another man. With its crack cast of newcomers and veterans—among them Chris Noth, Shiloh Fernandez and Mary-Louise Parker—Miami director Xavier Manrique’s feature debut navigates numerous emotional geometries with sophistication, wit and understated wisdom.
When his income as a fisherman proves woefully insufficient to cover his son’s school fees, Kevin turns to human smuggling in order to raise desperately needed funds. Kevin finds that he’s good at this dangerous yet profitable vocation — good enough to trust himself with smuggling his own girlfriend and her son to the US. But when faced with having to abandon refugees at sea far from Miami shores, Kevin is suddenly forced to reassess his responsibilities. Inspired by true events, Cargo examines the world’s refugee crisis from a very local perspective. The largest Bahamian film project to date, this latest feature from Kareem J. Mortimer is a thrilling, vital call for empathy in troubled times.
Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Poems from the Murder Capital of the World
Over the last quarter-century, in a bunker-like building in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, 70 girls ranging in age from one to 18 have found refuge from poverty and violence. Our Little Roses is Honduras’ only orphanage for girls. Its charges are looked after by a devoted staff who supply food, shelter, medical attention and nurturing care. The debut documentary from filmmaker Brad Coley is a moving, eye-opening tribute to the courageous work performed at Our Little Roses. Voices Beyond the Wall tracks the long and difficult process of recovering from trauma, healing deep wounds, and preparing for a better future.
Give Me Future
2015 was a landmark year for electronic dancehall superband Major Lazer. After topping the EDM charts with their international hit single “Lean On,” the band continued its world tour, mounting elaborate shows not only in traditional destinations, but also in more challenging locations around the globe. Fueled by a dream of “making the world smaller by making the party bigger,” the group furthered their mission of peace through music with a free concert in the unlikeliest of venues — downtown Havana, Cuba, where no American band at the height of their fame had previously been allowed to perform. Without knowing whether anyone in the country even knew who they were, they hoped to reach a potential crowd of 50,000. After half a million exuberant fans showed up, music history was made on a massive scale. In what began as a concert film intended to document this groundbreaking event, director Austin Peters turns the camera on a burgeoning youth movement, fusing exhilarating performance footage with authentic stories of cultural and political shifts in a country on the precipice of change.
Based on the story of undefeated two-time World Boxing Champion Edwin Valero, El Inca is a powerhouse biographical drama about talent and charisma, love and ambition, excess and self-destruction. Valero, aka “El Inca,” rose from humble Andean roots to international celebrity by defeating one rival after another — he set a world record by winning his first 18 fights with a first-round knockout. But as Valero’s professional life bloomed, his personal life began to stagger, with insecurities leading to marital infidelities and perilous addiction. These are aspects of Valero’s life that still spark controversy: following a brief, successful theatrical run, the Venezuelan Government removed the film from theaters. El Inca tells of an exhilarating rise, a tragic fall, and the riveting displays of athletic mastery in between.
A pizzeria may seem a modest venture, but for the three enterprising habaneros at the center of Cuban filmmaker Patricia Ramos’ winsome feature debut, success in the pizza business holds the promise of prosperity, purpose and, just maybe, love and happiness. A deliciously off-beat romantic comedy, On the Roof offers an impeccable balance of colloquial charm and universal appeal. Ramos and her excellent cast have crafted highly relatable characters with varying degrees of ambition, ingenuity and quirk. Some current Cuban films seek to correct sweeping social ailments; by contrast, Ramos and her collaborators understand that sometimes the world is changed one dream at a time
Monday Nights at Seven
This second feature from multi-hyphenate Marty Sader merges fiction and real-life, un-choreographed events to tell the story of Persian-American Lazo (Sader), a damaged single father clinging to his past, and Isabel (Vanessa Cure), a young Hispanic woman whose own troubled history mirrors that of Lazo. Together, they have a shot at determining a new, better future. With an inspired supporting cast that includes UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and the legendary Edward James Olmos (who also produced the film,) Sader has sculpted a visceral, soul-stirring work of neorealism about forging ahead by staying true to one’s dreams.
Un cine en concreto
Cinema is the art closest to dreaming. It’s also the product of dreaming, both in production and exhibition. Omar is a soft-spoken, sinewy, middle-aged bricklayer. He has a passion for movies and cannot forget the magic of beholding them in a theatre as a child. Through sweat and willpower, he opens a cinema with ancient equipment in his small Argentine town. Then his brothers sell the land. And then Omar endeavors to construct his cinema all over again, brick by brick. Omar’s quixotic vision quest is the subject of Luz Ruciello’s beguiling feature documentary debut. A Concrete Cinema is an homage, a character study, a prayer. In short, it is a work of, and about, sheer devotion.
A Change of Heart
Frustrated with the cards life has dealt him, Hank (Jim Belushi) is man whose circumstances have driven him to fear diversity, yet his Central Florida town is adhering less and less to the white, straight profile with which he’s comfortable. After suffering a heart attack, Hank’s life is saved by a transplant — but will Hank’s body accept a donation from a Puerto Rican drag queen? Playing on both the literal and symbolic significance of that most treasured of organs, A Change of Heart conveys the sort of story America needs right now. Produced by Emilio Estefan (and co-starring Gloria herself,) this Kenny Ortega film (High School Musical) reminds us that even the most hardened among us can learn to embrace difference, accept love, and move on with life.
La muerte de Marga Maier
We are in a remote town somewhere very far from the Argentina we know. In the wake of a carnival parade, the river washes a corpse onto the shore. A crime has been committed, a mystery blossoms to life, and the legend of a mythical cursed diamond is tantalizingly revived. Shot on location in Punta Indio, the latest from director Camila Toker (Upa! An Argentinian Movie) combines elements of the thriller and the western to relay an intricate, timeless, darkly seductive detective story set in a strange and lonely place.
Santa & Andrés
Set in 1983, the second feature from Cuban writer-director Carlos Lechuga (Melaza) chronicles an encounter between Andrés, a novelist ostracized for his “ideological problems” and his sexuality, and Santa, a woman charged with keeping this ostensibly dangerous dissident from disrupting a political event and gaining the attention of the foreign press. Santa & Andrés is at once intimate and expansive, a chamber drama whose central action is a dialogue between two souls on either side of a profound cultural divide. Proximity inevitably prompts both the captive and warden to realize how much they have in common — and how completely the last six decades have affected the Cuban psyche.