On the surface, this year’s Miami International Film Festival seems to be almost identical to the festivals of past years. There would be nothing wrong with this, as MIFF is a respectable enough film fest and has maintained its popularity among artsy Miamians for the past 20 years.

The status quo is not what MIFF is about though, as proved by the signing of new festival director Nicole Guillemet a year and a half ago. Guillemet was a key player in the development of America’s most prominent festival, Sundance, which she was once co-director of. The changes she brings to MIFF are still unfolding, as it obviously takes time to turn around an operation that is only running for 10 days a year.

This year’s festival features one very high profile film, Dogville, from visionary Danish director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark). Dogville, which stars Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany, was a huge hit at Cannes in 2003 and is building critical momentum on the way to its March release in the U.S. Although there aren’t many other films at MIFF this year that are destined for wide releases, there are a ton of festival-circuit favorites. Osama, Good Bye, Lenin!, and Monsieur Ibrahim were three of the five Golden Globe nominees for Best Foreign Film, and Osama, a drama set in Afghanistan, took home the award.

To single out films from a lineup like this is difficult, since each one is interesting in its own way. That’s exactly how film festivals should be, as opposed to having a couple of prominent films surrounded by space-fillers.

MIFF definitely isn’t filling space this year, seeing as how the 10 day festival is packed with intriguing films. There are actually 16 films playing on a couple of the days, with never less than 10 on any given day. This is an alternative to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, which ran for 31 days in fall 2003. FLIFF shows only a couple films per day, making it possible for jobless cinephiles to catch every movie if they want, but even the fest’s employees must get tired in the middle of such a long stretch.

MIFF starts tonight (Friday, Jan. 30) with the French comedy Bon Voyage. It ends with a closing night ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 7, where Dogville will be screened. Even though awards will have already been given out, there are some films planned for Sunday, Feb. 8, including the Charlie Chaplin classic Modern Times.

The venues for this year’s festival are the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami, Regal South Beach Cinema 18, Sunrise Cinemas Intracoastal in North Miami Beach, the Tower Theater in Little Havana, and the Cosford Cinema on campus, where admission will be free for UM students. The rest of the tickets will cost $7 for students, except for a few special events that may charge more.

Download the official festival program at and look out for visiting celebrities like Woody Harrelson (Cheers), who will be in town to promote his film Go Further. There’s no better time for foreign films in Florida than the next 10 days in Miami.

Shawn Wines can be contacted at