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by Ron Bernthal

The 20th Annual Miami Film Festival completed its two-week run with its new director, Nicole Guillemet, formerly of the Sundance Film Institute. More than 65 feature films from 24 countries were shown at three cinemas in the Miami/Miami Beach area, with most of the performances packed with festival participants and local film aficionados.

With temperatures approaching 90 degrees, filmgoers kept cool by staying in the theatres and watching a selection of excellent films that included director Daniele Thompson's French comedy Jet Lag, Andrzej Czeczot's Polish animated feature Eden, Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme's documentary The Agronomist, and Andrew Levine's The Day My God Died, about child trafficking in Bombay.

Festival director Nicole Guillemet surprised her South Florida audience with a larger than normal selection of documentaries, as well as a new program called "Miami Encuentros" (Miami Encounters), aimed at supporting new Iberoamerican filmmakers -- artists from Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking countries throughout Latin America and Europe. Seven new films were introduced to festival audiences as part of this program.

The festival concluded on Saturday night at the city's historic Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Following remarks by Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, awards were presented to the following films:

Short Film Award - Climbing Miss Sophie. USA. Liat Daham's 24 minute film about a sick, elderly woman who loves a street boy more than he could ever imagine.

International Critics Award - La Espera (The Wait). Uruguay. Directed by Aldo Garay Dutrey, a young woman, her bitter, bed-ridden mother, and their unassuming neighbor all "wait" for different kinds of freedom.

Audience Documentary Award - Balseros. Spain. First part of this film premiered as a short film in 1997, about a group of Cubans who fled the island on rafts in 1994. Balseros follows up on these people. Spanish Directors Carles Bosch and Josep Domenech.

Audience Dramatic Film Award - En la Ciudad Sin Limites (City of No Limits). Spain. Starring Geraldine Chaplin. Antonio Hernandez directs a plot revolving around a dying man and his family.

Grand Jury Award Documentary Award - Onibus 174 (Bus 174). Brazil. Mesmerizing account of the hijacking of a bus in Rio de Janeiro, and the standoff between the police and a homeless drug addict. Director Jose Padilha.

Grand Jury Dramatic Film Award - Nada Mas (Nothing More). Cuba/Spain/France/Italy. Shot in Cuba about a lonely postal worker who intercepts the mail of strangers and writes unsolicited replies. Director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti was unable to obtain a visa from the Cuban government to attend the festival.

[Ron Bernthal teaches communications at SUNY/Sullivan in upstate
New York.]

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