MIAMI (AP) — Nat Chediak didn’t waste time to make his mark in film from an unlikely place.
Sunday’s (Jan. 12) launch of “Nat Chediak’s The Films of My Life” monthly series at the Coral Gables Art Cinema celebrates Chediak’s 50th year in film and brings his career full circle for the movie connoisseur.
“I started my entrée into film on Dec. 3, 1970, when I jump started the University of Miami Film Society,” said Chediak, 69. “That was the marker. I intend the last film of this annual series to be the first film I played at UM: François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.”
Mitchell Kaplan, who founded Books & Books and co-founded the Miami Book Fair, credits Chediak for much of his own personal growth.
“Nat taught me about film,” said Kaplan, a board member of the Coral Gables Arts Cinema. “As a high school student on Miami Beach, I used to drive to the University of Miami, where Nat, while a student there, ran a film series. He would show films I never knew existed, films by Sam Fuller, Truffaut and so many others. And, he would introduce them, telling us of their significance.”
On Sunday, Chediak, along with University of Miami professor, author and film historian Scott Eyman, will lead an audience discussion after screening Ernst Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise.”
THE OPENING FILM
The 1932 romantic comedy is a fitting choice, too. “Trouble in Paradise” is Chediak’s favorite film.
“It’s the closest Hollywood, or anywhere, has come to perfection in every regard,” Chediak said of the 83-minute adaptation of a 1931 play by Hungarian playwright László Aladár.
Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise” tells of a master thief masquerading as a baron and a pickpocket masquerading as a countess who fall in love and try to con a beautiful woman who owns a perfume company on the Riviera.
Lubitsch, a German-American, “was a part of the Europeans who fled Nazi Europe and came to America,” Chediak said. “The man who made ‘Casablanca’ was a Hungarian named Michael Curtiz. They brought that old world knowledge to what is now a lost art in a way,” Chediak said.
A MIAMI MOVIE MAVERICK
The choices are in keeping with Chediak’s storied and worldly history in Miami. He’s a maverick, credited with giving Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar his first screening in the United States with a presentation of the 1983 black comedy, “Dark Habits.”
Chediak opened the art house movie theaters, the Cinematheque and Arcadia in the early 1970s. He co-founded the Miami Film Festival with Stephen Bowles in 1984, which prompted the Miami Herald’s former film critic Bill Cosford to pronounce its immediate success, a “sweet story of cultural revenge.”
Most arts events need at least three years to break even and gain traction, Cosford wrote in the Herald in February 1984.
The Miami Film Festival?
“Actually, it took about three hours. ... The first overnight cultural success — the first instant ‘hot ticket’ — in this city in my memory,” the film critic wrote about the festival’s opening, which drew lines outside the Gusman Cultural Center (now the Olympia Theater) in downtown Miami for its opening film, “Crackers.”
“Success at the box office means South Florida will have another cultural event that repeats, that has continuity — something a community with too many one-shot deals needs most,” Cosford wrote.
Kaplan would agree.
“When I moved back to Miami and Nat had the Cinematheque, I would go to his theater to find films from around the world. He introduced Spanish and Latin American cinema to South America. Then, when he co-founded the Miami Film Festival, he continued to nurture my love of film by premiering films that would go on to be classics. And, as the artistic director of the Gables Cinema, we can see in real time how Nat’s sensibility influences our community. I’m excited that with this series others will all be able to hear from Nat directly about those films that are so personal to him,” Kaplan said.
FOR THE LOVE OF FILM
Chediak hasn’t swerved from his roots. He still wants you to feel the love of whatever he’s fallen for — be it film or music.
This passion carried Chediak through 18 years as the director of the Miami Film Festival and his national exposure of directors like Almodóvar and Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, who directed a definitive film about Latin jazz, “Calle 54,” in collaboration with Chediak in 2000.
Chediak is currently the director of programming for the Coral Gables Art Cinema and for its decade history works hand-in-hand with his pal Steven Krams, the cinema’s founder.
Even Chediak’s venture into producing and curating Latin jazz turned into an educational and entertaining jazz festival offshoot of the Miami Film Festival. He wrote the authoritative, “Diccionario de Jazz Latino.” And Chediak scored Grammy and Latin Grammy wins for his production work alongside Trueba for recordings by Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés.
Chediak has recently completed production of a 100th anniversary Valdés boxed set and his first foray into pop/R&B music with a labor-of-love album — a deep dive, audiophile-minded venture into the Sam Cooke songbook.
The only project that got away: a film on Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen that he and Trueba wanted to make together before Cohen died in 2016.
A cancer survivor, Chediak laughs when you greet him with the customary, “How ya doin’?”
Of course, he responds with a film reference.
“I remember a scene from ‘The American Friend,’ a (1977) film by Wim Wenders. Nicholas Ray is playing a cameo and they ask him, ‘How are you feeling?’ and he says, ‘A little older and a little more confused.’”
Perhaps that’s because there’s just so much more Chediak wants to accomplish.
“The thing that concerns me is how little time I have left to get so much stuff done,” he said. “There are so many movies I’ve yet to see. So many books and so many albums.”
Maybe that’s why the timing for a year-long celebration in film feels so right — so Nat.
“I want to do something out of the box and not obvious,” Chediak said of his “Films of My Life” series. “Even when I presented Almodóvar for the first time in the U.S., he was out of the box as well. Obviously, nobody is going to think Nat Chediak is going to present ‘Some Like It Hot,’ which everyone knows.
“I want to put a spotlight on films that I believe are exceptional and not well-trodden in the sense of being in everyone’s DNA. These are films I feel should be in everybody’s DNA but probably aren’t,” he concluded.
Chediak will allow for one possible exception, a 1963 Stanley Kramer comedy with Spencer Tracy headlining an all-star cast. Krams’ stocking of the Coral Gables Art Cinema with vintage cinema projection equipment makes it possible.
“In the coming months one program that I am going to do is a very special screening of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in Super Panavision 70 millimeter. It’s the first time since its release it will be presented” in that format, Chediak said. “Mitch Kaplan is also a huge fan. There’s a Criterion edition but it’s not on anyone’s list of greatest films of all time. Maybe that film falls in the guilty pleasure chapter.”
The son of a Lebanese government diplomat, the Havana-born Chediak was in high school in Beirut when the Six Day War hit just before final exams in 1967.
He earned his diploma, anyway, and moved with his parents to Miami and enrolled at UM, from which he would graduate in 1971.
Chediak discovered his love for film at UM after watching an obscure 1963 French art film drama directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet, “L’Immortelle,” he told the Miami News in 1986.
As U.S. cinemas screened the biggest cinematic hits of 1970 — “Love Story,” “Airport” and “M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H” — Chediak went deeper. He turned his love for film into the Cinematheque, Arcadia and Astor art house movie theaters.
Chediak, then the head of Channel 6’s film department, was named by the American Film Institute as one of the 20 leading “quality film” exhibitors in the United States in 1974.
“I keep being surprised by the movies and one of my surprises is that movies are still being shown in theaters,” he said. “That’s why I’m having such a great time at Coral Gables Art Cinema.
“There’s nothing like watching a movie in theater,” said Chediak. “Movies are not meant to be watched gathered around a cellphone. Try watching ‘Psycho’ on a cell. Even at home. You need to be in a darkened room with a lot of people around you to be scared, to laugh. Movies are a communal experience.”