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It was NOT a complete reveal of what’s in store for 2016, but in a press release that came out yesterday, Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival announced 15 titles that it will premiere in Miami at next year’s festival (March 4 – 13). The announcement kicks off with the unveiling of the festival’s opening night film, My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche), by Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia. The comedy should make for anther grandiose opening for the festival at the ornate, 1,710-seat Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. The 32nd annual festival opened with another raucous Spanish-language film, the Argentine film Wild Tales (Wild Tales doesn’t turn the other cheek — A Film Review).

My Big Night features Spanish pop singer Raphael (pictured above) playing a fictionalized version of himself. He will attend the screening as the festival’s opening night special guest. The movie’s story is set at a television studio, during a 2016 New Year’s Eve program where Murphy’s Law seems in full effect. I recommend checking out Jonathan Holland’s review of the film in The Hollywood Reporter for a balanced take. Regardless of his view, you will know whether this is your kind of movie or not. He calls it “madcap” in the traditional sense.

The film’s director has appeared at the Miami International Film Festival with three other films in the past, including Witching and Bitching (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi) in 2014, The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta), which screened at MIFF 2011 and Perfect Crime (Crimen ferpecto) which screened at the 2005 festival. But, for this writer, he will always be the guy that gave Spanish cinema the most insane performance ever by Javier Bardem in Perdita Durango (1997), which didn’t play the festival but has become a cult classic.

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Spain seems to be a major focus for next year’s MIFF, considering the other titles announced in the press release. Below my signature you will find the full release with all the films announced thus far plus details for tickets and a few other notable events, including the opening night party and a seminar on animation.

Hans Morgenstern

Álex de la Iglesia’s My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche) Opens an Outstanding Spanish Selection at Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival

Star-studded comedy heralds an incredible line-up

 of Spanish films debuting in Miami in 2016

Miami, FL — Álex de la Iglesia, one of Spain’s most charismatic and dynamic filmmakers, will open Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival on March 4, 2016, with his new film My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche), starring Spanish pop icon Raphael and an ensemble cast of many of the biggest stars in the Spanish film industryThe Festival is the only major film festival produced worldwide by a college or university.

In a sly performance of self-referencing parody, Raphael plays “Alphonso”, a legendary pop singer with over 50 years of chart-topping success who is headlining a New Year’s Eve 2016 TV special.  The taping of the show and the backstage shenanigans surrounding it drive the comic engine of My Big NightIn a special treat for Miami audiences, Raphael will appear in person at the screening to officially inaugurate this year’s Festival.

The film also stars Mario Casas, Santiago Segura, Carlos Areces, Blanca Suarez, Hugo Silva, Carmen Machi, Carolina Bang and many other talented Spanish stars. The title of the film is a reference to one of Raphael’s most famous songs, the 1967 hit “Mi Gran Noche.”

“Álex de la Iglesia has made a perfect pop movie with My Big Night,” declared the Festival’s executive director & director of programming Jaie Laplante.  “This riotously funny film is much more than one of the very best films by de la Iglesia, it is a party!”

The “party on screen” at the Olympia Theater at Gusman Center will continue after the film with an outstanding Opening Night party as the Festival returns to its traditional venue, the Historic Alfred I. Dupont Building.  The party promises to ring in the new Festival with glitz and cheer, boasting rocking music, cuisine, cocktails, and dancing, similar to a glittering NYE bash.  The events kick off the Festival’s CINEDWNTWN series, sponsored by Miami’s Downtown Development Authority.  Tickets for My Big Night + Opening Night Party are already on sale at www.miamifilmfestival.com

My Big Night is just the beginning of an outstanding selection of many of the biggest and most important films from Spain that will be featured at the 33rd edition of the Festival.  Festival organizers released a large portion of that slate today, continuing with three major US premieres that are all slated for the CINEDWNTWN GALAS PRESENTED BY MIAMI DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY program:

javier-camara-ricardo-darin-truman by Maku Lopez

  • Cesc Gay’s Truman, starring Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara, already heralded as a front-runner for the 2016 Goya Awards (Spanish Academy Awards).
  • Emilio Martínez Lázaro’s Spanish Affair 2 (Ocho apellidos catalanes), the record-breaking sequel to Ocho apellidos vascos, the highest-grossing Spanish film of all-time at the Spanish box office.
  • Fernando González Molina’s Palm Trees in the Snow (Palmeras en la nieve), the epic, big budget adaptation of Luz Gabás’s sweeping romantic novel of Spanish Guinea in Central Africa. The highly anticipated film, also starring Mario Casas, is set to open in Spain on Christmas Day.

Six other Spanish feature films will also receive their US premiere at the Festival. They are:

  • Agusti Villaronga’s The King of Havana (El rey de La Habana), a scandalous adaptation of Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s scabrous 1999 novel, filmed in and co-produced with the Dominican Republic.
  • Federico Veiroj’s The Apostate (El apostata), winner of Miami’s 2015 post-production Encuentros prize sponsored by Knight Foundation, an eccentric comedy about a young Spaniard seeking to remove the official Catholic status from his birth records.
  • Paula Ortiz’s The Bride (La Novia), an earthy, sensual new adaption of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, starring Inma Cuesta and Álex Garcia. Both actors are familiar to Miami audiences from their 2015 Festival visits with their most recent films, Sidetracked and Kamikaze.
  • Daniel Guzmán’s Nothing in Exchange (A cambio de nada), the big winner at the 2015 Málaga Film Festival, the feature film directorial debut of the popular actor;
  • Juana Macías’ We Are Pregnant (Embarazados), a delightful romantic comedy with a swoon-inducing lead performance by Spanish heartthrob Paco León;
  • Gustavo Ron’s My Bakery in Brooklyn, featured as part of Lee Brian Schrager’s Culinary Cinema series

Additional majority Spanish production titles confirmed for the 2016 Festival include:

Still from Julio Medem’s Ma Ma

  • Julio Medem’s Ma Ma, starring Penélope Cruz
  • Gracia Querejeta’s Happy 140 (Felices 140), starring Maribel Verdú
  • Javier Ruiz Caldera’s Spy Time (Anacleto: Agente secreto), a big-budget adaptation of the popular Spanish comic strip character
  • The documentary Snacks, Bites of a Revolution, a look at the New Basque cuisine movement which so greatly influenced world culinary styles, part of the Lee Brian Schrager’s Culinary Cinema program
  • The world premiere of the short “The Lift” by Javier Polo, who previously presented his documentary Europe in 8 Bits to Miami audiences at the 2014 Festival

A seminar has also been confirmed:

  • “From Doodles to Pixels” presentation and screening with animators, in partnership with Centro Cultural Espanol (CCE), Accion Cultural Española (AC/E), and Miami Animation and Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) at MDC.

Several additional titles from Spain are expected to be confirmed for the Festival in time for the full program unveiling in January, once again affirming Miami International Film Festival’s status as the key portal in the United States for Spanish art and popular cinema.  Spanish programming at the Festival receives significant support from AC/E (Acción Cultural Española) of Madrid.

The 33rd annual Miami International Film Festival will take place March 4-13, 2016.  Advance ticket packages, plus tickets for the Opening Night Film and Party, are already on sale at www.miamifilmfestival.com or by calling 1-844-565-6433 (MIFF). For membership opportunities or more information, please email membership@miamifilmfestival.com or call 305-237-FILM (3456).

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(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Poster 700x1000 AFIn her most recent role as the lead in They Are All Dead (Todos están muertos), which had its U.S. premiere at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, Spanish actress Elena Anaya plays an agoraphobic mother of a teenage boy (Christian Bernal) who lives with her mother (Angélica Aragón). Lupe, a former pop-rock star from the golden age of Spanish rock (la movida), becomes a shut-in after the death of her brother and former bandmate Diego (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Lupe has been in her house for years and the mere thought of facing the world fills her with anxiety. Anaya, who’s probably most widely recognized for her appearance in films by Pedro Almodóvar, gives a powerful performance, one that earned her the Best Actress award at the Malaga Film Festival.

In a recent conversation with Anaya, during a stop at MIFF with the film, she says of her character, “[Lupe] is a sort of princess that is locked up in her tower, fearful to all the outside ghosts that are nothing but ghosts from the past.”

The moving performance shows a woman who struggles for each word, a perfect fit for a former musician who has been through terrible loss and has since abandoned her craft. Without an outlet, Lupe feels constrained by her own body. “At the beginning of the movie, Lupe’s body is tight and contracted. She cannot relax into her own. It was a feeling that cannot be transmitted with words. I used gestures,” explains Anaya.

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While Lupe is in the midst of her own sorrow, her 14-year-old son is being raised by another strong female presence, Lupe’s mother Paquita, a Mexican woman who is as strong as she is filled with folkloric beliefs. Chief among them is her conviction that for Lupe to move on, she has to settle unfinished business with her dead brother. Día de los Muertos provides the perfect excuse for Paquita to try to get her daughter out of the house.

Paquita also feels the pressure of her own mortality, as her grandson will be needing his mother soon. “One of the main themes behind the script is being able to say goodbye to someone that left without saying goodbye,” says Anaya. For director Beatriz Sanchís the theme is a very personal one, as Anaya reveals. “When Sanchís was very young a close friend of hers died suddenly in an accident, and she had fantasized with what would happen if she could run into him and say goodbye.” Indeed, the film has a personal feel to it, filled with nostalgia. It also intimately examines the lives of these characters. However, it is Lupe who has to carry the story.

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It was a challenging role for Anaya, which the actress took to heart. “This film is being told from a woman’s point of view.” And it is in this role that finds Anaya a complex, multidimensional individual feeling the weight of loss, the pressures of motherhood and the need to connect before being able to find her own way. “It’s a story about family, life, about death, about music, about forgiveness, so many different things,” she says in a sweet tone.

She credits Sanchís in helping her prepare, so she could inhabit this character long before shooting began. “I was very lucky to have Beatriz’s help months before official rehearsals began,” she says. “I was able to get to know this character well, being able to live her fears and feel them in every pore of my body.”

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Anaya certainly throws her whole body into this performance, and her transformation through Lupe jumps off the screen, in particular when she is behind the keyboard in footage shot on video of happier times on stage. Anaya found her inspiration for the rock star portion of the role in Ana Curra, a Spanish keyboardist best known for her role in Alaska Y Los Pegamoides. Her personal story is actually similar to the one depicted in They Are All Dead. “It was pure coincidence,” notes Anaya but explains that her look and photos of her melancholic gaze helped Anaya envision what it would have been like to be part of the booming rock scene in Spain in the 1980s.

“It’s a new film for me that was new from all perspectives,” adds the actress. While the role is a new endeavor for the actress, it was also very personal. “I recently lost my parents,” she mentions, but adds, “Death is part of life, and it is something that we all have to accept. That is why the film was so good for me.” With a combination of the rock scene in Spain in the 1980s — a golden age for that movement — imaginative moments through a narrative of Day of the Dead and some very sweet exchanges among family members, both living and dead, the film takes risks and delivers a touching story that shines through Anaya’s performance.

Ana Morgenstern

They Are All Dead does not have U.S. distribution, but hopefully someone will consider this movie, so others can see it. It premiered in the U.S. at the Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival this week. The festival concludes on Sunday.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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At the end of June Spanish filmmaker David Trueba was in Miami to present his new film Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. I spoke to him via phone to discuss all the prestigious awards the film has won and how both John Lennon and the little known Spanish school teacher who met him inspired the film. The younger brother of Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque), David seems incredibly grounded, and he brings that humility to his film craft.

Though it won six Goyas (Spain’s equivalent to the Oscars) in major categories, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, which Trueba wrote, the filmmaker maintains a healthy perspective on his film beyond the awards. “I try to do the film the way it needs to be done,” he declares, “so the awards for me are always a surprise and encouragement to keep doing what you have to do than compromising to whatever is the current fashion of film.”

He says his main source for inspiration comes from people, an apt detail considering the humanity at the heart of this film, which never feels overshadowed by both the celebrity of Lennon, who is never depicted on screen, nor the ominous shadow of Franco that feels ironic during the heyday of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Trueba says when he learned of Lennon’s presence in the narrative of his country it came as a surprise, and it sparked a curiosity that led to this film. “I’m usually attracted to characters more than plots or histories or anecdotes,” explains the filmmaker, “so in this case, I remember I was on holiday in the South of Spain, in Almeria. It was 2006, and they were presenting a monument to John Lennon, explaining he was there shooting a movie in 1966 [How I Won the War].”

Trueba notes Lennon was at an interesting place creatively, a bit exhausted with the fame of the Beatles and turning to acting to try something different. “He was very isolated at the time,” says the director. “He just finished a long, long tour with the Beatles.” However, the filmmaker never wanted to explore Lennon’s specific experiences in Almeria. He was more interested in presenting it as a backdrop to the adventures of a trio of characters who road trip to meet Lennon.

The travelers are composed of 18-year-old Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), who ran away from home after his father threatened cut his mop top; a young, pregnant woman (Natalia de Molina, who won Best New Actress Goya) looking for safe passage to her mother’s house; and the film’s lead: a bald, slightly chubby, bespectacled teacher named on Antonio (Javier Cámara, who won the Best Actor Goya). Antonio is based on a man some img1hardcore Beatles fans may know as a footnote in Beatles history: Juan Carrion. Trueba explains Carrion’s significance:  “He was teaching English with the lyrics of the Beatles, and he just made the trip to get to know John Lennon and ask about some lyrics he couldn’t understand, to translate, and at the same time forced John Lennon to put the lyrics on the albums because he was explaining to him that that was very important to him to motivate young students to learn.”

Trueba’s decision to create a fictional version of Carrion, who he notes only recently turned 90, and has become a friend, comes from the idea that the director did not to feel restrained by a slavish commitment to history, which might undermine his film’s message. “That was just a decision I made from the beginning because I didn’t know the guy,” says Trueba. “I was more interested in the story as a metaphor, and I didn’t want to make a story about this guy and investigate his personal life … and I didn’t want to make a film about John Lennon. I only wanted to use Lennon’s presence to illuminate the characters, the Spanish characters. I’m not trying to make a documentary of him or a biopic of him.”

Real life, however, still informs the movie on other levels. Fitting to Trueba’s interest in the more abstract elements inspiring his movie, the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” has an important presence in the film. It’s as witty as a shop keeper offering Antonio a giant crate of surplus strawberries for his road trip, but also as resonant as the film’s title, which alludes to a lyric in the song. The revelation that Lennon composed the song while shooting How I Won the War with director Richard Lester is a little-known fact. “At the time, [Carrion] didn’t know that Lennon was composing or had composed ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in Almeria,” notes Trueba, “and even Richard Lester, the director of the original movie they were shooting there. He got in touch with me after seeing the movie. He didn’t know that Lennon composed ‘Strawberry Fields’ during the shooting. That was something Lennon explained before he died in some interviews, so I use all these coincidences to make a stronger and more real film.”

You can read much more of my chat with Trueba on this film and see it’s trailer, by jumping through the Cultist logo below, where I first covered Trueba’s visit to Miami:

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Hans Morgenstern

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed is now playing at the Coral Gables Art Cinema through July 17. Visit gablescinema.com for details and tickets.

Update: The movie expands to O Cinema Miami Shores Thursday, July 17. Visit o-cinema.org for details and tickets.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)