Miami GEMS Film Festival spotlights award nominees

Miami’s legion of moviegoers are getting an extra treat this week via the expanded ninth edition of the Miami Film Festival GEMS. The carefully curated week-long festival (under the Miami Dade College umbrella) runs November 3-10 at Miami’s historic Tower Theater, featuring some of the fall festival’s most beloved attendees along with five entries international at the Oscars.

On the back are award contenders, opener”Glass onion: a mystery at loggerheads at the closing party The Fabelmans“, by Steven Spielberg. Sarah Polley’s buzz about “Women Talking” is a centerpiece presentation; Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale” is the other.

Limiting programming choices is never easy, says interim executive director Nicolas Calzada, but the festival’s objective is clear and offers “a taste of the best films of the year that are likely to be rewarded”. Once a weekend, Miami Gems is now a week, has grown every year since its inception, and it’s never enough, argues Lauren Cohen, director of programming for Miami GEMS. “It’s hard to condense the line-up in such a remarkable year for cinema,” she notes.

The intention is to mix high-profile Oscar contenders with “hidden gems and the kind of films that are nurtured at film festivals that may or may not have commercial release,” she says. All benefit from theatrical screening and presentation, putting international films on a par with major studio releases.

She cites Mary Nighy’s “Alice Darling” (in competition for the first feature award presented at the Miami Film Festival in March) as a prime example of a high-impact film that shouldn’t be ignored by moviegoers.

Among the 25 feature films from 12 countries are four documentaries, including the Venice Golden Lion winner “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”, by Laura Poitras. Art-related topics are doing well in Miami, says Cohen, who expects the film to resonate with GEMS audiences. “It’s our biggest and best line-up and we’re very proud of it,” adds Cohen.

Special events are also eagerly awaited: the opening night at the Tower Theater, which occupies the entire complex, as well as three awards ceremonies. There’s a first-ever ensemble award to the virtuoso cast of “Glass Onion” and a Precious Gem career award to Paul Dano for “his last great performance playing the father in ‘The Fabelmans,'” Calzada says. These award ceremonies will be virtual; Actor Raul Castillo will receive the Kudo Art of Light in person after the screening of A24’s “The Inspection’s”. “It’s a memorable supporting role and a powerful performance,” Calzada says of Castillo’s turn as a likeable drill sergeant in writer/director Elegance Bratton’s story inspired by his own life.

Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, the iconic Tower Theater (scheduled year-round by the Miami Film Festival) has retained its devoted audience. “Fortunately, we are really seeing a strong resurgence in cinema,” says Calzada, pointing to the theater’s recent record run for “Argentina, 1985.” “We’re starting to get back to pre-COVID attendance and even better, and hopefully that continues in GEMS,” he adds.

However, after 20 years, Miami city officials decided in September to end Miami Dade College’s management of the 96-year-old Tower Theater in the heart of Little Havana. Filmmakers and local fans reacted strongly to the decision and called for it to be reversed. “We encourage people to contact the municipal authorities,” explains Calzada. “The Tower has always been a theater and we hope it will always remain a cinema,” he says. Cohen agrees, “The vibe of this theater is so special and it means so much to the community.”

Ahead of the festival, “God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Toppled a Dynasty” by Miami-based filmmaker Billy Corben screened in a special GEMS preview. (The documentary follows the scandal surrounding a Miami Beach hotel pool attendant and evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife). Corben credits the leadership of the festival and the stewardship of Miami-Dade College with bringing “the Miami back” back into the festival lineup.

He explains, “The priority they place on showcasing the filmmakers of 305 (and 786) has been transformative for us and the community.” Calzada agrees: “Supporting local cinema is in our DNA.

Robert M. Larson