By Sean Boelman
While much of the focus in the fall festival season circuit goes to Oscar contenders, there’s another subsection of films that can be just as (if not more) rewarding: international films. Miami Film Festival’s GEMS program does showcase some of the higher-profile prestige pictures of the year, but it also leaves room for some of the most acclaimed films from the rest of the world, and audiences shouldn't pass up the chance to see them on the big screen.
Take Carla Simón’s Alcarrás for example. I got the opportunity to see the film via screener recently, and it did not resonate nearly as well watching it from home as it did seeing it in a theatrical setting. Getting the chance to see the gorgeous cinematography by Daniela Cajías on the big screen and hear the score by Andrea Koch and the precisely-crafted sound design made me feel that much more immersed in the world of this Spanish farming family.
Before the screening of No Bears, the festival honored Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi — who is currently serving a sentence in prison after having been arrested by the Iranian government for speaking out against the country — with its top honor, and Panahi delivered an audio message from prison. Although much of the audience had not yet seen the film, they knew they were about to experience something special after having that experience of hearing from Panahi.
However, perhaps the single best experience I had at the festival was seeing Saint Omer with a small audience of people at the Tower Theater who were completely engrossed by the film. This courtroom drama is shot in a straightforward way — and there’s nothing about the production of the film that really heralds it as a “theatrical” experience, but there’s still something that made that moviegoing experience magical. Feeling the tension in the air during every second of the testimony made the film hit unexpectedly harder.
Indeed, seeing international films in theaters gives us the opportunity to have a communal experience of being immersed in a different culture. And after all, isn’t that what cinema is all about? Whether the film is meant to transport us to a fantastic world beyond our imaginations or peel the curtain back on a portion of our world that we might not have known about, the filmmaker’s goal is to draw the viewer in and make them feel something.
Kudos goes to small festivals like the Miami Film Festival for running programs like GEMS to provide moviegoers with these experiences. Although some of these films weren’t particularly busy, as festival attendees flocked to the higher profile selections like The Whale or Women Talking (and there’s nothing wrong with that), those of us who are more canny to the world of international cinema got a glimpse into another part of the world, and left the cinema feeling profoundly moved.
The 2022 edition of Miami Film Festival GEMS runs November 3-10.
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.