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Stars align for Miami International Film Festival's opening night festivities

l to r: actors Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Jared Gilman, director Michael Radford, MIFF executive director Jaie Laplante; packed house at Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts
l to r: actors Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Jared Gilman, director Michael Radford, MIFF executive director Jaie Laplante; packed house at Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing ArtsMiami International Film Festival

I have a confession to make: I’m a Miami International Film Festival virgin. Well, a virgin as far as covering the festival as a press member. Even though I’ve been reviewing movies professionally in South Florida for over six years now, South Florida’s premiere film festival had never been a priority. I can’t pinpoint exactly why but it’s probably a potent combination of immaturity, my lack of interest in Ibero-American cinema and laziness.

The stars arrive on the Miami International Film Festival red carpet on Friday, March 7, 2014
The stars arrive on the Miami International Film Festival red carpet on Friday, March 7, 2014Miami International Film Festival

After attending last year’s successful 30th anniversary festival, at which I caught Pablo Larrain’s sharp political thriller No, Thomas Vinterberg’s searing The Hunt, as well as an enlightening Critics Panel at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, I decided that it was about time I put on my big boy shoes and showed up to the party. Since this is my first year covering the fest, I’ve opted to pace myself and only cover eight films. I’ll be posting my diary entries on each film over the course of the next seven days.

No film festival coverage is complete without the opening night festivities and thus it was MIFF’s opening night premiere of Michael Radford’s Elsa & Fred on Friday, March 7 where I decided to kick things off. I didn’t make it to the Olympia in time for the red carpet arrivals, but I didn’t need to because one look-around the theater was all I needed to gauge the glitzy festive temperature of the evening. Photographers and television anchors lined the aisles, desperate to get a shot of the stars – among them Elsa & Fred leading players Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, filmmaker Jonathan Demme, actor Jared Gilman, as well as Anne Hathaway, whose last minute appearance caused photographers to lose their temporary sanity. Audiences, on the other hand, seemed to be relishing the evening. Dolled up in Miami-chic, they laughed, socialized and caught up with their weekly gossip as they emptied their cocktail and wine glasses, waiting for the lights to dim down.

After colorfully-dressed festival director Jaie LaPlante welcomed the audience and ran through a list of the festival’s sponsors, the audience were introduced to the stars of the evening – director Michael Radford, actor Jared Gilman, and of course, Oscar winners MacLaine and Plummer. A rapturous standing ovation from the packed house of nearly 1,500 awaited the group. My friend and colleague Juan Barquin, who I was sitting next to, summed up the reaction best when he sardonically tweeted, “The hills are alive with the sound of applause for Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine.” Knowing Plummer’s disdain for discussing that Oscar-winning film, I doubt he'd have liked that tweet one bit.

MacLaine and Plummer put on their best game faces entertaining the star-struck audience with trivial stories about the fun they had making the film. The adorable and understandably nervous Gilman looked thrilled just to be included in the group. And finally, as the photographers and television reporters were being ushered out through the back doors, the lights went down and the movie began.

Look out for my review of Elsa & Fred as well as my brief diary entry-styled thoughts on the seven other films I will watch over the next seven days on Examiner.com as well as my own site, FilmFrontier.

More Information: Miami International Film Festival