MIFF's Jaie Laplante Talks Cinema at the Intersection of Hollywood and Latin America
Before 1983, few moviegoers, even the ones who considered themselves film buffs, knew the name Pedro Almodóvar. But that changed, at least in South Florida, with the first Miami International Film Festival, which screened the world premiere of the Spanish filmmaker's Dark Habits. Almodóvar went on to work with stars such as Penélope Cruz and win awards everywhere from Cannes to the Oscars. And MIFF grew too, hosting increasingly prominent premieres and boosting dozens of other rising filmmakers — including the Coen Brothers, Robert Rodriguez, and Miami's own Billy Corben — to greatness.
The 2013 edition of MIFF, running March 1 through 10 and comprising more than 200 events, marks the festival's 30th anniversary and yet another step toward relevance in a saturated world of film festivals. But despite headline-making acquisitions such as this year's Dark Blood, the final film starring River Phoenix, MIFF is not trying to become another Tribeca or Cannes.
"We're not Sundance," executive director Jaie Laplante explains. "I think what we are doing here in Miami is different, and if we stay focused on who we are and being unique in our programming and the films [we] attract as world premieres, which are different from the type of films that are world-premiering in Sundance, then we have our own opportunities to be influential and respected."
Key to growing this respect is recognizing Miami's close relationship with Latin America. MIFF's Knight Ibero-American Competition attracts many of the region's most noteworthy filmmakers through a cash prize that has doubled under Laplante — $45,000 in jury prizes — and the promise of a screening on what has become one of the world's biggest stages for Latin films. "It's part of our mission to expand the audience for Ibero-American cinema into the United States," Laplante notes. "This festival has a particular place among the national consciousness... because we are a gateway into Latin America."
MIFF's growth mirrors the progress of film culture in Miami. Recent years have seen the formation of clubs for film buffs, an influx of movie and TV projects shooting around town, and local filmmakers improving in both ability and number. From outsiders bringing in Hollywood productions to locally grown talent working here, Laplante says, Miami has become an increasingly influential movie town thanks to filmmakers such as Borscht Corp. Despite what he calls a "fundamental difference of approach" between MIFF and the Borscht Film Festival, Laplante raves about the local collective. "I just think they're a tremendous group of talented individuals. I love their creativity. This last Borscht was so fun. My only regret is that it's not more often, that we can't look forward to it every 12 months."
In the meantime, Laplante remains devoted to acquiring more and better films — especially ones no audience has seen — for MIFF in the years to come. "I want to continue to use our resources to encourage getting those world premieres or those international premieres of those big films to come here first," he says. "That's what I'm focused on."
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