MIAMI - As thrilling as it is to be in the thick of the action at such superfests as Cannes or Sundance, I may well enjoy the smaller, less flashy film festival circuit even more --  as well as affording you a chance to catch up on previous festival hits you may have missed, the more off-the-beaten-track, locally-flavored programming often yields gems you'd never find otherwise. (And I won't lie: with less stress around covering this or that major auteur premiere comes more time to take in some local color. Hey, even cinephiles like seeing the off-screen world on occasion.) 

So it was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation to the Miami International Film Festival, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and looks to be doing so in considerable style. In fact, I should retract the words "less flashy" from the last paragraph if yesterday's opening party -- cheerfully mixing vodka cocktails, zesty Latin cuisine and booming chart hits in the spectacular art deco surrounds of the city's historic Alfred I. DuPont Building, with a best-dressed contest encouraging guests to up the glamor ante -- was anything to go by.    

I had been hoping to catch the opening film of the festival, which happened to be one of the documentaries I most regretted missing at Sundance -- "Twenty Feet from Stardom," the soul-soaked spotlight on backup singers that delighted Greg in January and has been picked up for distribution by the Weinsteins' Radius label. Sadly, flight schedules and the snaking passport queue at Miami International conspired against me, so straight to the party it was. There will be plenty of other chances to catch this crowdpleaser, which, to go by the chatter last night, warmed Miami as much as it did the more frozen Park City audience.

Other Gala titles at the festival include recent Oscar nominee "No," Fernando Trueba's "The Artist and the Model," Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom's return to his homeland in "The Hypnotist," Cannes prizewinner "The Hunt," self-explanatory sports documentary "Venus and Serena," and the US premiere of George Sluizer's unfinished 1993 thriller "Dark Blood," starring River Phoenix -- which I saw and reviewed at Berlin last month.

That I've seen a number of the bigger draws allows me more room to explore the more exotic reaches of the programme, which is of course heavy on Ibero-American cinema, with two entire competition strands devoted to this ethnic branch. Among the 10 world premieres at the festival are the unusual-sounding coming-of-age drama "The Boy Who Smells Like Fish," with a cast including Zoe Kravitz, Ariadna Gil and Carrie-Anne Moss, Spanish marital drama "Matrimonio" (which offers a welcome chance to "All About My Mother" star Cecilia Roth in another lead role) and documentary "Viva Cuba Libre," a study of the underground Cuban rap scene. Look out for my festival postcards and we'll see what we find.