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Miami Film Festival Features Music and Dance-Heavy Titles for 40th Anniversary

Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival marks its 40th edition, running March 3-12, with a full-blown return to the in-person festival experience with a sidebar of only 10 titles available online.

“We’re celebrating the human connection and getting back into cinemas again,” says programming head Lauren Cohen who in her first year flying solo at the helm, is putting her personal stamp on the festival with female-centric topics dominating the Master Classes.

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“It’s our 40th anniversary, which is such a milestone for us, we want it to be bigger and better than ever,” she continues.

Opening with Ray Romano’s directorial debut “Somewhere in Queens” and wrapping with Stephen Frears’ “The Lost King,” this edition features a dozen world premieres, three North American premieres, eight U.S. premieres and 14 East Coast premieres.

Given Miami’s allure and reputation as a music capital, a serendipitous number of this year’s selection of more than 140 local and international projects – from feature films, docus and shorts – are celebrating music and dance.

“People ask me what the theme of this year’s festival is and interestingly enough, while not exactly planned, we have several dance and music-themed films in our lineup,” says Cohen.

Those films include: “Black Swan,” choreographer Benjamin Millipied’s directorial feature debut “Carmen” ; a documentary on the origin of Cuban jazz music, “AfroCuba ’78” ; bio-drama “Chevalier,” which revolves around the life of French-Caribbean musician Joseph Bologne ; Sundance docu “Pianoforte,” which focuses on the cutthroat Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw; and the tragic Dutch ballerina tale, “Piece of My Heart.”

“Carmen” executive producer and composer Nicholas Britell, whose evocative London Voices choir music drives the narrative behind the romantic drama, will receive the Art of Light (Composer) Award, presented by the Alacran Group.

Britell is a three-time Oscar nominee whose credits include Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” HBO’s “Succession,” for which Britell won an Emmy, the “Star Wars” spin-off “Andor” and Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up.”

“Each project I work on gives me a chance to learn how music works in a show,” says Britell. “I love the challenge of figuring out its musical landscape.”

“With ‘Carmen,’ Benjamin [Millipied] wanted to explore new ways for music to interact with the story. There are scenes where the choir is almost talking with the characters,” adds Britell,  who is currently scoring Season 4 of “Succession” and Jenkins’ “Mufasa: The Lion King.”

Inspired by Prosper Mérimée’s eponymous novel and Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Gypsies,” “Carmen” stars Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal, Oscar nominated for his turn in Charlotte Wells’ poignant “Aftersun.” Barrera, Millipied and Britell will be attending the festival.

Other prominent guests include Romano, Nicholas Cage, who will receive Variety’s Legend and Groundbreaker Award, Diego Luna who will be honored with Variety’s inaugural Virtuoso Award, and “Euphoria” costume designer Heidi Bivens, who hosts a master class on costume design at the fest.

Open to the public for a nominal fee, the festival’s three master classes coincide with International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8.

On March 4, Bivens will be discussing HBO’s “Euphoria” as a television phenomenon and its impact on millennial and Gen Z fashion, particularly in terms of streetwear and make-up. Bivens will drill down on the personal style and aesthetics of “Euphoria” as well as her collaborations with such prominent directors as David Lynch, Michel Gondry, Luca Gudagnino, Spike Jonze and Harmony Korine.

On International Women’s Day itself, Anna Bogutskaya, author of the upcoming book “Unlikable Female Characters,” hosts a master class to discuss how more “unlikeable” female characters have been proliferating in film, TV and pop culture and asks how long-standing stereotypes are still affecting us.

“It will ask whether society is ready to accept women as full-fledged human beings, ones who don’t have to be polite and sweet all the time,” says Cohen.

On March 9, the master class “What is an Intimacy Coordinator?” tackles the hot button issue of handling sex scenes on film and TV, taking a deep dive into what an intimacy coordinator does. Certified intimacy coordinator Nicole Perry will explore what goes into an “intimate scene,” what the coordinator can bring to a production and the parameters for consent and boundary communications for the actors.

This year, the festival is also launching a new prize, the Goya Quick Bites Short Film Award. The $2,500 cash prize will go to the short film that best showcases the intersection of food and community. Six short films have been selected to compete, among them “Arroz Leche y Powerball,” directed by Mariana Serrano and “Daughter of The Sea” by Alexis C. Garcia.

Cash prizes amounting to more than a $100,000 in total underscore the festival’s objective to incentivize more resident filmmakers and to encourage more films to be made in South Florida.

Now on its sixth year, the Festival’s Knight Made in MIA Award competition will award  $45,000 to the best feature-length film making a minimum Florida premiere in the Festival and $10,000 to the best short film – of any genre – that features a hefty portion of its content (story, setting and actual filming location) in South Florida, from West Palm Beach to the Florida Keys.

The $10,000 Jordan Ressler First Feature Award, sponsored by the South Florida family of the late screenwriter Jordan Ressler, will have a total of 16 films vying for the award, including Romano’s “Somewhere in Queens,” Lorena Padilla’s “Martinez,” “Carmen” and “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Miami-born Aitch Alberto.

Says Padilla, “I’m so pleased ‘Martinez’ will have its world premiere at the Miami festival, it’s an excellent start to the film’s festival journey.”

The Miami fest is a key lifeline for Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, who is exiled in Spain and won’t be able to attend the screening of his drama “Vicenta B,” which vies for the $25,000 Knight MARIMBAS Award, a competition for new international fiction features.

“It means a lot to me to reach the many Cubans who live in Miami. The festival has always been so welcoming of my work, they screened “Melaza” and “Santa & Andres” in the past,” says Lechuga.

“Many of us Cubans have relatives there so the festival is a perfect event for a Cuban film.”

Among more than 30 Special Presentation screenings which showcase films from around the world is Venice’s Arca CinemaGiovanni award-winner “Monica” by Andrea Pallaoro, starring Oscar-nominated Mexican actress Adriana Barraza (“Babel”).

“This will be an amazing opportunity for audiences in my dear Miami, the vibrant city I’ve had the privilege to call my second home for the last 20 years, to experience this moving, endearing and profound film that shares the importance of acceptance and love within families that have trans children and siblings,” says Barraza. “It was an extraordinary experience to work with this incredible cast I admire so much, including the beautiful and talented Trace Lysette and the magnificent Patricia Clarkson.”

Santiago Mitre, whose “Argentina 1985” is nominated for a best international feature Oscar, will screen his latest film, “15 Ways to Kill Your Neighbor,” at the fest.

“It’s a black, bloody and very sentimental comedy about an Argentine cartoonist who feels locked up living in France,” says Mitre. “I’m so pleased that this film is being shown at the same time as ‘Argentina 1985’; they are two films that are polar opposites but are related through a love of storytelling and cinema.”

Cohen hopes to see the festival grow and expand under her tenure.

“We hope to further engage the new generation,” she says. “While it’s vital for festivals to showcase arthouse films, it’s equally important to lure younger audiences, college students so that they see more than just Marvel movies and blockbusters.”

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