Sparkling, shining, dazzling – Son of Sofia and Summer 1993, the first two films announced for Miami Film Festival’s 2017 GEMS Festival (October 12 – 15), are top jewels of the current international film season. (There will be many more when the full GEMS program is announced.)
Son of Sofia
Greek director Elina Psykou won significant attention in 2013 with her debut feature, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas, and continues to astonish with her second feature, Son of Sofia. The film world premiered at Tribeca Film Festival this past April and won Best International Narrative Feature (and $20,000) from a jury that included actors Willem Dafoe and Peter Fonda.
Son of Sofia is a fantastical journey through an 11-year-old Russian boy’s fraught collision with the bewildering logic of the world of adults. It’s 2004 and Misha’s mother Sofia has been in Athens for two years making the living that she could not back home in Russia, and she finally sends for Misha to join her. Upon arrival, Misha discovers he has a harsh new elderly Greek stepfather, adding to the already overwhelming sense of alienation he feels in Greece, with its language that he doesn’t speak and its obsession with hosting the upcoming Olympic Games.
Psykou creates something unique: a fairytale forged out of elements of messy, thorny realism. The visual and aural design of the film quickly casts a fevered spell. Psykou crowds her frames with pop imagery of huge toy plushies, intricate Old World artifacts, lifesize animal costumes, dreamy nocturnal cinematography and heart-piercing, strange lullabies that at intervals overtake the dialogue and the action, working like siren songs to drown our dreams in the hypnotic reverie. And then in counterpoint, Psykou introduces a brash, sexy 18-year-old Ukrainian hustler working the streets of Athens who becomes a kind of Fagin to Misha’s Oliver Twist.
In awarding the top prize to Son of Sofia, the Tribeca jury stated: “We unanimously agree that one film challenged us to see in a new way, and we were seduced by the surprising humanity of its difficult characters. The direction was assured, and its tone unique.” This is one GEM that you want to reserve a space for when you plan your GEMS schedule!
Like Son of Sofia, Spanish filmmaker Carla Simón‘s first feature, Summer 1993 (original Catalan language title is Estiu 1993), is a period piece set in the recent past that likewise asks us to examine our adult foibles, as we look at them through the perspective of a young protagonist – in this case, wary six-year-old Frida, who leaves the city life in Barcelona after both of her parents pass away, to live in the countryside with her aunt and uncle.
Based on her own childhood experiences in Catalonia’s la Garrotxa region, Simón’s film was invited to the prestigious 67th Berlin Film Festival this past February for its world premiere, and triumphed by winning the high-profile Best First Feature Award (and a cash prize of €50,000). The film then went on to Malaga Film Festival in March, where it won the top prize – Best Spanish Film – one of Spain’s most important annual film awards.
Summer 1993 was a time when fear, uncertainty, panic and taboo of the AIDS virus was at a zenith point, and in Summer 1993, it’s the secret truth about the death of Frida’s parents that is always being obliquely referred to but never named by the nervous adults who have taken over Frida’s care. Simón has an unusual gift for capturing not only the visual field-of-reference of a young person’s world (giving the sense of a fully-formed universe) but the way a young person hears ideas for the first time, and begins the process of learning about adult masks, games and secrets.
In one sun-dappled, perfect summer, Frida will grow up more than any six-year-old should ever be expected to, as her new young step-parents struggle with the smiles and the tears. Summer 1993 has a touch of truth that even many personal screen memoirs don’t hit, thanks in no small part to Simón’s brilliant casting and work with actors, Bruna Cusi, David Verdaguer and the most incredible child actor discovery in years, Laia Artigas as Frida.
GEMS All-Access Passes, as well as vouchers for Son of Sofia and Summer 1993 are available for purchase now.
Tickets for the entire program will go on sale to Miami Film Society members on Friday, September 15th. General audience tickets will be available for purchase on Friday, September 22nd.
For more information, please visit our GEMS Page.