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James Woolley, Film Festival Veteran named Miami Film Festival Executive Director

Written By Josie Gulliksen
March 8, 2024 at 10:34 AM

James Woolley, Executive Director of the Miami Film Festival. Photo courtesy MDC’s 41st Miami Film Festival.

James Woolley is ready, excited, and delighted to helm his first Miami Film Festival and has been since he was named Executive Director in late 2023. He took the helm just as the 10th Anniversary of Miami Film Festival’s GEMS Festival, a four-day event held in November to showcase the best films of the fall season.

He’s set to lead the 41st edition of the Miami Film Festival, happening April 5-14, 2024 at various venues throughout Miami-Dade County. This year’s festival boasts over 100 features, more than 80 short films, 10 world premieres, and more than 24 Florida premieres. 31 countries are featured in the festival and more than half of the films are female-directed.

“I think the festival and the city is an exciting place for arts and culture. The festival has suffered a few tough years, due to the pandemic of course, but we’ve emerged from that and are ready to bring it back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Woolley. “The goal is to reinstate the number of films, venues, and guests that we used to have.”

He feels festivals in general are still returning to those heights and is happy to help make the transition happen. That growth and transition are already evident with the recent announcement at the Festival kick-off party of expanded and returning film screening venues.

Woolley brings with him the background and experience, coupled with the excitement of being in Miami, to keep Miami’s film community buzzing throughout the festival’s run and beyond. He has worked on more than 20 large-scale film festivals throughout his career, including the Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane Film Festivals. Most recently, he was executive director of the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco.

Woolley reveals that while a career in film festivals was not initially in his plans, his great love for film—ignited by his grandparents and parents who introduced him to film festivals in his native Australia—steered him towards the arts. This newfound love eventually guided him onto the path of film festivals 15 years ago.

A scene from “Mountains,” directed by Monica Sorelle showing April 7 at Arsht Center Knight Concert Hall. Photo courtesy MDC’s 41st Miami Film Festival.

His choice seems to have been the right one, as evidenced by his reflection, “the festivals I’ve worked at have all seen some kind of growth and audiences have loved them.” His satisfaction and pride in the positive impact his work has had on film festivals and their reception shines through in everything he does.

He’s particularly proud of having featured all of Oscar-winning Director Bong Joon-ho’s films at those festivals, even before he became a household name for “Parasite,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

“Joon-ho is an absolute hero of ours who has been a great friend, it was wonderful to see his film trajectory all the way to the Oscars,” Woolley said. “Being a part of that experience makes this all worthwhile.”

Miami audiences will notice a shift from March to April for the Miami Film Festival, an intentional change, “so we could screen more films from the Sundance Film Festival and host more celebrities,” said Woolley. Celebrities like Director Tony Goldwyn, star of the hit television series “Scandal,” Heather Graham, Jeremy Piven, and Alison Brie.

There will also be a significant number of films by local filmmakers screened at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, a new venue this year. “We will host our opening and closing night films here,” said Woolley at the recent Festival kick-off party at the Mayfair House in Coconut Grove. “We’re excited to have such a large venue to share with our audiences.”

Udonis Haslem, a Miami High graduate and NBA player with the Miami Heat in a scene from “The Asylum,” directed by Jaime Gutierrez showing April 7 at Arsht Center Knight Concert Hall. Photo courtesy MDC’s 41st Miami Film Festival.

At Knight Concert Hall, film buffs can catch “The Asylum,” directed by Miami’s Jaime Gutierrez about the dynasty days of Miami Senior High School’s basketball team featuring basketball icon Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat, and “Mountains,” directed by Haitian-American filmmaker Monica Sorelle. The short film “Querido Pequeño Haiti,” directed by Miami’s Diana Larrea precedes that feature.

“32 Sounds,” by Sam Green showing April 6 at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in Downtown Miami. Photo courtesy MDC’s 41st Miami Film Festival.

Woolley also mentioned the Oscar short-listed documentary “32 Sounds” screening at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) that is entirely based on sound and, “is a live performance where headphone-wearing audience members watch along with award-winning documentary filmmaker Sam Green while he narrates and provides live sounds designed to emote audience emotions.”

And what Woolley is billing as “a day worth remembering” is an eight-hour marathon showing of ‘La Mesias,’ a Spanish family thriller series from Spain, promising it will be an unprecedented event. This is set to take place at Silverspot Cinema in Downtown, a returning venue for the Film Festival.

Other venues across the county include the Miami Beach Bandshell on North Beach, O Cinema and Regal Cinema on South Beach, the Cosford Cinema on the University of Miami campus and the Coral Gables Art Cinema, and the Koubek Center in Little Havana.

Additional highlights for this year’s festival are the spotlight on Cuban cinema at Miami Dade College’s Koubek Center, an expanded shorts program with 24 locally produced films vying for the MIA Short Film Award, and a record number of films with ties to Miami and Miami Dade College.

During his debut year, Woolley says he wants to present great films, have great audiences watching them, and feel he’ll have achieved his goal.

Wooley ended by saying, “It is all about making it larger, more accessible, and letting audiences feel the experience of something they can’t get at home. Something very fun, adventurous, and unforgettable.”

WHAT: Miami Dade College 41st Annual Miami Film Festival
WHERE: Various venues around Miami-Dade
WHEN: April 5-14, varying times each day
COST: General admission $15.50, Student / Military $14.50 (plus online ticket fees)
INFORMATION: Miami Film Festival

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

 

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