Miami Film Festival Guide

While Miami’s native independent cinema scene is still growing, the city plays host to many yearly film festivals. The largest of these is the annual Miami International Film Festival, and there are a number of smaller events throughout the year. With Miami being home to so many different tribes, there are film festivals for almost all of them, it seems. Here is a list of the key events on the Miami film festival circuit.

American Black Film Festival

The American Black Film Festival got its start in the late ’90s as the Acapulco Black Film Festival, but underwent a name change when it headed stateside in 2002. Its 2011 edition took place in Miami across four days in July, with a program focused on films that focus on social change. The festival’s founders aim to put together a slate of programming that represents different sides of the black experience today. They also hope to spur on the black filmmaking community by encouraging collaborations and networking throughout the festival.

When: Four days annually around July

Borscht Film Festival

The Borscht Film Festival is young, feisty, and aggressively experimental. It was started by early twentysomethings born and raised in Miami, and its programming consists mostly of works by the same. Having missed a year or two since its first in 2003, Borscht is a “quasi-yearly” event with a slate of parties running up to the main event, a nighttime mish-mash of the final selections. These are all short films, many involving collaborations with local musicians. The next edition will likely expand even more, as the 2011 film festival — Borscht 7 — sold out and left hundreds of would-be fans practically stampeding to get in. (See our review: “Borscht 7: The good, the bad, and the Pageant Diva”.)

When: One day, “quasi-annually” around April

Brazilian Film Festival of Miami

The annual Brazilian film festival draws on the ever-growing community of Brazilian ex-pats in South Florida for a run of more than a week. Every year presents a full schedule of both short and feature-length films by top Brazilian directors working worldwide, along with networking events, speeches, and panels. The 2011 edition of the festival marks its 15th anniversary.

When: About a week annually around August

Canes Film Festival

This is a boutique annual festival with a specific entry pool of talent: students at the University of Miami’s film school. The best showcase short films in narrative, documentary, and animated genres, which, in 2011, were shown in a special Los Angeles screening as well.

When: Annually in the spring

CINE! Chilean Film Festival

As the name indicates, this week-long festival celebrates the film of Chile. The 2010 edition was its first, with screenings taking place daily at the Tower Theater on Calle Ocho. Like most other festivals, it also included a handful of panels on film marketing and distribution.

When: Annually for about a week around September

DocMiami International Film Festival

This growing film festival takes place in the unlikely locale of Doral, but earns distinction for being the only one in the city to focus only on documentary filmmaking. The festival includes both shorts and feature-length films, and gives awards for both. The 2011 edition also included a concert by top Latin music artists to benefit school-building in Tanzania.

When: Annually for about three days around September

France Cinema Miami

Technically, this is known as “France Cinema Floride,” because the annual three-day festival takes place in two South Florida locales: both Miami and Boca Raton. The programming here is, of course, French, French, and more French, including a number of U.S. premieres among the selections.

When: Annually for three days around November

Italian Film Festival

The Italian Film Festival isn’t just in Miami. There’s an edition in Atlanta, too, and the festival founders, though based in Miami Beach, have a vision of promoting Italian culture across the country. It scored a Miami New Times nod for Best Film Festival in 2008, and its weeklong run typically includes a series of glitzy late-night club parties as well as a roster of short and feature-length films. The festival also sponsors a monthly Italian film at the Tower Theater.

When: Annually for about a week around October

Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

The annual Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is hugely influential, and ranks just behind the Miami International Film Festival in size and scope, though may be slightly ahead in general perceived sexiness. The sprawling festival includes glittering galas, panel discussions, and networking events, and a daily, intense programming schedule of both short- and feature-length films. It’s also dedicated to bringing this cultural activity to South Beach. From June to February, annually, the festival also sponsors a monthly screening series.

When: Annually for about a week in April or May

Miami International Film Festival

The granddaddy of all the Miami film festivals, this Miami Dade College-sponsored event has done much to establish Miami as a viable destination for film. The programming, which runs longer than any other film festival in town, includes multiple screenings across the city, with most of the high-profile screenings taking place at the ornate Gusman Theater downtown. The programming includes both shorts and feature-length films from around the worlds, with many public screenings also including Q&As with filmmakers.

When: Annually for about a week-and-a-half in March

Miami Jewish Film Festival

This winter film festival celebrates filmmaking from across the Jewish diaspora. The 2011 edition marked its impressive 15th anniversary and included its much-lauded sub-competition for high school-age filmmakers.

When: Annually for about a week around January

Miami Short Film Festival

The 2011 edition of the Miami Short Film Festival marked its 10-year anniversary. The focus here is clear — no feature-length films, obviously, but the rest of the field is wide open. Given Miami’s ethnic makeup, past festivals have featured works from throughout Latin America, but also from far-flung locales like Australia, China, and Israel.

When: Annually for about a week around November

Optic Nerve

Technically, this isn’t really a “film festival” but rather an annual buzz-worthy celebration of video art curated and sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Sometimes that manifests as short films with a narrative, while other entries are even shorter and more left-field. The only common thread is that each is usually truly surprising. (See our review of Optic Nerve XIII.)

When: Annually for one night around July

Sicilian Film Festival

A seven-day festival inaugurated in 2006 by Emanuele Viscuso, a Sicilian-born sculptor, musician, writer, and designer, the Sicilian Film Festival seeks to “seeks to underline the importance of Sicily and Southern Italy, its cinema, literature, art, food and wine, fashion, and culture on an international platform.” While the festival’s home base is Miami Beach — the 2012 festival will be at the Miami Beach Cinematheque — it also puts on events in other cities around the country.

When: Annually for seven days around April

Women’s International Film & Arts Festival

The yearly WIFF — the common abbreviation of the Women’s International Film & Arts Festival — has a sweeping vision: to become the largest event in the world for women filmmakers. With a goal of both presenting the best work and further encouraging its creation, the festival includes heavy slates of both screenings and workshops, panels, and symposia. It’s also a multidisciplinary festival of sorts, lately, as the 2012 edition will celebrate wardrobe design and fashion in film.

When: Annually for about a week around March or April

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