The 30th Miami International Film Festival opened to rousing applause and a bit of old-fashioned music magic, with singing legend Darlene Love belting out Lean On Me on-stage at the gloriously over-the-top-art deco Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts following the opening night screening of hot documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom.

As it did at its world premiere at Sundance, the film had the audience on their feet and cheering with its tuneful, insightful and entertaining story of back-up singers to the music greats, which features interviews with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler and Mick Jagger, but more importantly highlights the talents of singers such as Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fisher and Judith Hill.

In fact Darlene Love’s rendition of Bill Withers Lean On Me was delivered with such gusto that the theatre’s speakers had a hard time dealing with her sheer vocal power.

Opening and closing the festival with documentaries (the festival wraps on March 9 with sports film Venus And Serena) was a bold decision for festival director Jaie Laplante, but one that seems to have struck a chord with audiences who have been quick to embrace other titles screening at MIFF, such as Blackfish, Viva Cuba Libre: Rap Is War, and Valentine Road.

But it was the feisty performance by Darlene Love (now over 70, and who sang on titles such as Da Doo Ron Ron and He’s A Rebel, and later took a sideways step into acting as Danny Glover’s wife Trish Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon films) after the opening film that set the festival’s tempo, with her and the film’s director Morgan Neville staging a Q&A after the film.

They had the opening night audience on their feet and cheering, which set things up perfectly for the opening night party at the art deco Alfred I. DuPont Building, literally across the road from the Gusman. The Miami weather may well have been unseasonlly cold, but the opening night events set up the festival rather well.

Other guests at the festival included Lasse Hallstrom (who received a career achievement award) and was there for screenings of his classic 1986 film My Life As A Dog along with his new film The Hypnotist, and attended a party in his honour along with wife Lena Olin at Miami’s Epic Hotel. 

Other guests included James Cromwell (Still Mine), Adriana Gil and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Boy Who Smells Like Fish), Griffin Dunne (The Discoverers), Carlos Costa (Day Of The Flowers), John Leguizamo (The Trip 2) and director Lucy Walker (The Crash Reel).