MIFF 2015: A Girl at My Door, Both Disturbing and Tender

It's not often we witness a film that has a sympathetic protagonist who happens to be a police officer, much less one that actually deserves the audiences' attention. But the South Korean film A Girl At My Door, is exactly that. Actress Bae Doona stars as the police chief of a small town, sent there as a kind of punishment, the result of a personal incident.

Bae's character, Lee Young-nam, is a functioning alcoholic, the kind who can keep it together and nothing like the village drunkards. Her character is juxtaposed against the city's leading entrepreneur, Park Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok), a rather vile man who spends his nights abusing his daughter, Seon Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron). When Young-nam meets the abused child, she takes it upon herself to protect the girl from the physical and emotional abuse that surrounds her, and their relationship. However strange it seems, this is what fuels this curious little film.

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Actress Paz Vega on Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrim, and MIFF 2015

Courtesy of The Pilgrim
Paz Vega in character

"I love Miami," says Spanish actress Paz Vega ahead of her visit to the Magic City for the Miami International Film Festival. "I have a lot friends living there. It is a fabulous city! And the best thing is the people. Everytime that I go I have so much fun!"

She will appear at the festival to support The Pilgrim: The Best Story of Paulo Coelho where she plays Luiza, a small but key role in this biopic that covers the famous Brazilian writer's life before he wrote his most famous novel, The Alchemist. "She was his first true love," explains the actress of Luiza, "someone who really understood him and supported him. She was ready to have a life with him, but Paulo at that time, wasn't ready to commit."

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MIFF 2015: Elena Anaya Shines in Todos están muertos

Courtesy of Todo están muertos
A still from the film.
Todos están muertos (They Are All Dead) is a weird movie. Humorous, sad, and as sweet as pie. It's grounded in the lovely magical realism that often seems deeply embedded in Spanish culture.

The film focuses on Lupe (Elena Anaya), who was once an eighties rock star and now lives as her agoraphobic mother -- a woman who can't stop making apple pie and lives at odds with her own mother, Paquita (Angélica Aragón), and son Pancho (Christian Bernal). It's only when her mother performs a Day of the Dead ritual with her friend that the ghost of Lupe's brother, Diego (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), is brought into her life.

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Miami International Film Festival 2015 Embraces Local Filmmakers

Courtesy of Miami International Film Festival
Hot Girls Wanted
From Sundance to Toronto to South by Southwest, Miami filmmakers have made their mark on the festival circuit. The city's most buzzed-about collective, Borscht Corp., has had work accepted at major gatherings around the world -- but never at the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF). Until now.

MIFF, which returns this Friday and runs through March 20, changed its requirements for submissions this year, in part to allow films like Borscht's to be screened. Before this year, every MIFF screening had to be at least a Florida premiere. "But obviously the Borscht festival is a different forum," explains Jaie Laplante, MIFF's executive director. "They're involved in production, and we're not... We don't want to exclude any of the great work being done here on a technicality."

See also: Cuban Filmmaker Jessica Rodriguez Shows Life Through a Different Lens

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Cuban Filmmaker Jessica Rodriguez Shows Life Through a Different Lens

Courtesy of Jessica Rodriguez
The filmmaker.
You may not realize that Cuban filmmaker Jessica Rodriguez makes documentaries. The Havana-born, Madrid-based 28-year-old has a gift for making her subjects forget they're telling their most personal secrets to an unknown audience. "I think people only tell us what they want to, and the things they don't say are often much more interesting," she says. "I like working with people who feel like talking, feel like telling things to the world."

Rodriguez's selection of short films, presented during an Emerging Cuban Filmmaker showcase at the Miami International Film Festival, seek to tell a story of four disparate lives, each story intertwined with the other as the director seeks to unravel the human condition. "I don't like textbook characters; I prefer to humanize stories in a way that shows what the human experience is; vulnerable, and imperfect," Rodriguez says. I think that the 'textbook' story has been told a million times, and I think it's far more interesting to explore uncharted territories, and seek out those stories and anecdotes that people don't often share."

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Miami International Film Festival Announces 2015 Lineup

Courtesy of Miami International Film Festival
Tuesday at the recently renovated Tower Theater on Calle Ocho, Miami Dade College's Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) announced the lineup for its 32nd edition.

Running from March 6 to 15, with screenings at seven theaters throughout Miami-Dade County, MIFF will exhibit 125 films from 40 countries. They include 94 features and documentaries, 18 shorts, 11 student films, and two works in progress.

As the only major film festival worldwide produced by a college or university, MIFF honors the Miami community as much as promotes its diverse international programming. Standing in front of posters propped up on easels at the front of the theater, MIFF Executive Director Jaie Laplante called upon local filmmakers and directors in the audience to come up and introduce themselves and their nine works that will be screened.

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Miami International Film Festival Reveals New Poster and Mystery

Courtesy of Miami International Film Festival
Last night at a special reception at the Tower Theater, the Miami International Film Festival revealed quite a bundle of exciting news about its upcoming year. Specifically, it was a night dedicated to revealing the latest poster for the festivals 32nd edition.

The poster, which you can see just above, features a photograph of Orson Welles visiting Miami Beach in 1943. It was unveiled last night to an audience of excited folks prior to a fitting screening of a new documentary on the great filmmaker. Documentarian Chuck Workman's film, Magician: The Astonishing Work and Life of Orson Welles, takes us through the life of the filmmaker, and guests had a chance to watch it months before its spring release. And hopefully, the presence of Welles in the poster and the screening will offer insight to the festival's line-up.

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MIFFecito: The Highs and Lows of Vara: A Blessing, Raiz, and Life is Good

Courtesy of Miami Film Festival International
Vara: A Blessing
Vara: A Blessing
Khyentse Norbu's Vara: A Blessing begins strong, introducing audiences to Lila, a young woman who practices the art of bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance that evokes the art of temple dancers. In its first act, the film proposes a bit of a flip on the typical route for women that involves choosing men over religion, presenting a girl who genuinely has no interest in being married. The film soon leaves reality and indulges in fantasy sequences of Lila falling into romantic situations with God.

Its problems, however, come early in the second act, when Lila's narrative ditches all semblance of character development. This section's depiction of the male gaze is as impressive as it gets, with the leering eyes of the community's landlord resulting in constant quick cuts and closeups of hands, faces, shoulders, and feet. Yet Vara takes pains to present as much of a female perspective in its first act as possible, which makes the mid-film shift and everything that follows so much more disorienting.

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MIFFecito: Love Story Paradise Captures Weight Issues Without the Clichés

Andrés Almedia and Daniela Rincon in Paradise
Maybe it's a cultural thing. In Hollywood movies, fat people are often the butt of jokes and more often than not, obese actors embrace the stereotype that they're just funny-looking fools. So they take the parts and dive in with gusto to make careers exploiting themselves for ridicule. What makes Mexican director Mariana Chenillo's Paradise so refreshing is that it does not look down on the two large leads and balances humor with heart and an insight into relationships that transcends the looks of these characters.

Carmen (Daniela Rincon) and her husband Alfredo (Andrés Almedia) are two chubby people in love. They call each other "gorda" and "gordo" with nothing but affection. Chenillo opens the film with the two making love. The scene features many close-ups and sets up a sense of shameless comfort and confidence between the wife and husband.

See also: MIFFecito: Lake Los Angeles Builds With A Slow, Purposeful Power

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MIFFecito: Lake Los Angeles Builds With a Slow, Purposeful Power

Johanna Trujillo in 'Lake Los Angeles'

With Lake Los Angeles director/writer Mike Ott presents a heart-rending but placid portrait of the often solitary pain of the undocumented immigrant. Ott effectively uses a quiet, low-key cinematic delivery that creeps up on the viewer for a simple, devastating finale that raises small gestures to noble acts of kindness and may just redeem humanity in the face of a harsh, often lonely life.

Ott approaches the script, which he co-wrote with Atsuko Okatsuka, his collaborator on his two prior films, with a deliberate patience. Lake Los Angeles is the final installment in the loosely connected "Antelope Valley Trilogy." Atmosphere is key to the film. It's established early on as the camera rushes across a nocturnal desert landscape as billows of dust and smoke zoom past in the periphery. A child's voice whispers the Aztec myth about "The Rabbit in the Moon," as the humming drone of ambient music by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir (of the Icelandic band Amiina and a collaborator of Sigur Ros and Spirtiualized) swells underneath the surreal imagery. It ends with the abstract image of that rabbit, who sacrifices itself to feed a hungry traveler, coming into focus on the surface of the actual moon. It makes for a sublime opening that reflects the film's simple style, which builds toward the film's powerfully rewarding yet subtle finale.

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