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Miami fest's spicy variety lures film lovers inside

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It's rarely asked why a place like Miami needs a film festival. This city is already a midwinter magnet with its glistening sea, blue skies, and swaying palms. Why would people leave the great outdoors to spend their hours in long, dark rooms with movie screens instead of windows?

One answer is the fine selection of movies regularly served up by the internationally respected Miami Film Festival. Another is its strategic timing during the midwinter blahs that invariably strike multiplexes after the holiday season.

In the lackluster weeks between New Year's Eve and Memorial Day, moviegoers pin their hopes on the fresh material that springtime usually brings. What better place to anticipate the warm-weather revival, and sample its offerings, than the sunniest February film fest around?

Since festival chief Nat Chediak combs the world to assemble his programs, putting special emphasis on Spanish-language movies with strong appeal for this region's large Latin population, the worthwhile pictures here range far beyond standard American productions. And so does the Academy Award race, where Carlos Saura's spicy Tango is a strong candidate for best foreign-language film. It was the opening-night attraction here, delighting audiences who have followed Saura's many American releases over the past 25 years.

Works by top-ranking filmmakers also played in other key positions: Bernardo Bertolucci's goofily romantic drama Besieged was the closing-night screening, and Wim Wenders's toe-tapping Buena Vista Social Club, a lively spinoff from Ry Cooder's popular album of Cuban music, filled the "centerpiece" slot.

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