In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.
If Miami is the bridge from Latin America to the Unites States, the Miami International Film Festival is its silver-screen ambassador. For decades, the annual event has introduced audiences to international talent and innovation, highlighting independent films from newcomers and veterans alike.
The man behind the curtain amid the festival's exponential growth since 2010 is director Jaie Laplante, a producer, curator, and longtime film fiend.
"I think cinema has always been part of my DNA, and it was activated at a very young age, before even the age of 10," Laplante says. "So except for a few years as a young child when I was caught up in books and hockey, cinema has been a lifelong obsession."
Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Laplante came to Miami in 2001 when he was hired for ticketing operations at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. After his promotion to manager, Laplante dug the then-green festival out of more than $200,000 in debt. His efforts caught the eye of South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager, who hired Laplante in 2006 as his assistant director.
After four years by Schrager's side, Laplante's dream job -- a director's position at the Miami International Film Festival, also known as MiamiFF -- opened up. Since his appointment, the film festival's diverse programming continues to bring more buzz than ever to Ibero-American films and Miami's role in showing them.
"The film scene is about enjoying cinema communally, and one thing that has changed in Miami over the past ten years is the recent return to the strong identity of the niche movie house," he says. "Our new generation of independent cinemas in Miami have strong, distinct, and all very different personalities that have grown from their programming and the audiences they attract... It gives the Miami film scene a lot of character."
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The 32nd edition of the Miami International Film Festival, which returns to town next March, promises to continue the event's intriguing evolution. Laplante says since he's occupied the unique role of both orchestrator and fan, his love affair with film has only deepened.
"The basis for everything we do is for an artist to communicate his or her vision to our hometown crowd, and when I'm sitting with an audience during a MiamiFF screening and I feel that moment where they 'get' the film's theme, where everything becomes clear, it's pure magic," he says. "Then listening as the audience members profess their feelings to the filmmaker after the film is the icing on the cake, either in the public discussion or a private moment of fandom. It always gives me goose bumps to witness, and it never gets old."