Famed Spanish director's latest film to open this year's festival

 

BY RENE RODRIGUEZ | rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

when the Miami International Film Festival introduced us to the work of Fernando Trueba with titles such as Sal gorda (Coarse Salt) and Year of Enlightment (El año de las luces), the Spanish filmmaker was virtually unknown in the United States. He was our little secret.

Then Trueba, who turned 56 on Tuesday, hit the big time, winning an Oscar (for Belle Epoque, which opened the 1994 festival), shooting a movie in Miami (1996's Two Much, during which Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith fell in love) and becoming a player on the international film scene.

So there's a sense of homecoming -- nostalgia, even -- in Wednesday's news that Trueba's latest film will open the 28th Miami International Film Festival, running March 4-13.

Trueba's movie Chico & Rita, an animated musical about the romance between a piano player and a singer who meet in Cuba in 1948, is one of the more than 100 films from 40 countries comprising this year's slate, which boasts a wide array of famous directors -- Francois Ozon, Liz Garbus, Alex de la Iglesia -- alongside a slew of new talent.

The closing-night film will be Incendies, director Denis Villenevue's drama about twins who make a trek to the Middle East to find their family roots. The movie is one of nine shortlisted titles that will vie for the five Oscar nomination slots for Best Foreign Language Film, to be announced Tuesday.

The MIFF program was unveiled at a press conference at Miami Dade College, which organizes and presents the venerable event.

Esteemed Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding), whose latest project, In a Better World just won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Film, will receive this year's Career Achievement Tribute. Director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) will present his new picture, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, and participate in a ``conversation with'' seminar.

Other high-profile titles in the lineup are destined to become hot tickets: the French comedy Potiche, about a woman who takes over her husband's umbrella business after he falls ill, co-starring screen icons Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu; Things Fall Apart, director Mario Van Peeble's drama about a promising football running back in his final year in college, starring Ray Liotta and rapper 50 Cent (who also co-wrote the screenplay); Magic City Memoirs, the story of three Miami high-school seniors who engage in wild antics that become increasingly dangerous, co-produced by Andy Garcia; No Return, a thriller from Argentina about a man accused of a crime he didn't commit, starring Leonardo Sbaragalia (Burnt Money); The Last Circus, a raucous comedy from Spanish bad-boy filmmaker de la Iglesia about the wild goings-on at a traveling circus during the waning years of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, and The First Grader, the fact-based story directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) about an 84-year-old Kenyan villager fighting for his right to attend school for the first time.

This year's festival will also feature a heavy emphasis on documentaries, including Bobby Fischer Against the World, an exploration of the late chess master's incredible life; The Interrupters, director Steve (Hoop Dreams) James' look at the efforts of a group of former street-gang leaders, now middle aged, who try to combat urban crime in Chicago; Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times, a year-long study of the famed newspaper's attempts to survive the leap from old media to new, and Flamenco, Flamenco, the latest celebration of the historic dance form by the esteemed Spanish director Carlos Saura.

Returning to the festival are previous programs such as Encuentros, which assists up-and-coming and independent filmmakers secure funding and distribution for their projects, and Florida Focus, which showcases movies shot in South Florida by local filmmakers. A new competition, Cinemaslam, will celebrate the work of Miami undergraduate and graduate film-school students.

Executive director Jaie Laplante, who replaced former festival director Tiziana Finzi after the college decided not to renew her contract, says he is proud of this year's lineup.

``It's really solid and covers a lot of things,'' Laplante says. ``What I like about it the best is that it feels like a film festival specifically designed for this city. There are aspects of film and art culture, food, sports, nightlife -- everything that Miami is about is summed up in the program this year.''

Laplante, a veteran of the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and South Beach Food & Wine Festival, oversees every aspect of the event, from programming to sponsorship to fiscal responsibility.

``I like to leave my fingerprints on everything, so I spent considerable time with every department, focusing on how the festival is represented -- not just locally, but internationally.''

Festival tickets will go on sale in February. For information, including a complete lineup of this year's program, visit miamifilmfestival.com.

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