Though the Miami International Film Festival's opening night is still a month away, today's the day that probably makes festival director Jaie Laplante most restless: the day tickets go on sale to members.
"I'm anxious to see how they respond to the program," he said speaking via phone, earlier this week, "what films they enjoy the most. I have my favorites, and I have those films that I feel very protective and loving towards. I'm anxious to see if people respond the same way. It's kind of always an interesting process to put out the program, and you may have in your head what you think people will respond to, and they always surprise me."
Surprise is an important part of the festival this year. Laplante has already noted the 31st year means a fresh start to make new memories for anniversaries to come. His method to programming this year, he says, was to shake things up.
"The last thing that we wanted people to feel about Miami International Film Festival is that you kind of knew what to expect," he noted, "like, you're going to see great films with great directors. That's really good. It's a fantastic way to build a festival, but there's so much more to surprise people with. We brought on a new programmer this year. It certainly energized a lot of our selections."
More surprises keep coming with 11th-hour additions. At a press conference last Tuesday, there was a major last-minute addition: War Story, starring Catherine Keener and Ben Kingsley. Since then, Laplante has added three more films to the line-up.
"They were too good to pass up," he explained. The films include the first English-language feature by Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, and Open Windows, starring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey. "It's terrific," noted Laplante. "It's so, so cool. I thought about it for days after I saw it, and I only saw a rough cut. It didn't even have all the special effects in it."
Other memorable films include An Unbreakable Bond, a documentary directed and produced by Emilio Estefan about the story of Marc Buoniconti, the son of famed Miami Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti, who became paraplegic after a football injury at the age of 19. He was the inspiration behind the Miami Project, which leads the charge in research to find a cure for paralysis. Emilio's wife Gloria Estefan narrates.
"The third film is a world premiere from an actor turned director named John Stockwell called Kid Cannabis, which has got a lot of energy," noted Laplante. "I describe it as a cross between Stand By Me and Scarface."
That brings the total amount of features at this year's MIFF to 97. Besides big names like those mentioned above, when asked about competition films, Laplante chose to highlight the Knight Documentary Competition.
"I think I'm quite proud of the documentary competition, because it has such a variety of topics and styles, and some if it has quite a broad appeal to certain groups," he said, bringing up Europe in 8 Bits, about musicians who experiment with '80s-era video game electronics to make music. He also mentioned comedian Mike Myers' directorial debut, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, a film about an impresario key to the careers of Michael Douglas, Willie Nelson and Alice Cooper, among others.
The Art Rush is another outstanding doc, and it has ties to Miami.
"It has a lot to say about the state of the art world, how art is valued, and how that valuation has changed over the past 10 years or so," Laplante said. "One of the things that I thought was most interesting about it was that it features Miami's Don and Mera Rubell in the film, who come off really well. They kind of come across as a voice of reason."
When prodded to actually name personal favorites, the longtime cinephile caved pretty easily.
"There's some films that are quite obviously so wonderful, like Jim Jarmusch's film, Only Lovers Left Alive. He's one of my favorite directors, and that's one of my favorite films in his entire oeuvre. That film's already a classic in my mind.
"I've also been an avid, avid fan of François Ozon for a long time. I think his new film Young and Beautiful is quite underrated. It premiered in Cannes last year, and it didn't make a huge splash. It actually created some controversy, but I think the film is a little misunderstood. I hope that Miami can approach it in a fresh light, now that we're far enough away from those initial reactions and view it in a pure state.
"I also used to program the Miami Short Film Festival before I started working here at MIFF. Shorts are always a great love of mine, and we have two great shorts programs just full of wonderful, wonderful films, with wonderful filmmakers that are just so talented in their own right."
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The 31st-Annual Miami International Film Festival, March 7 - 16. Locations vary. Tickets cost $9 to $125 plus fees via miamifilmfestival.com. Film Society Member tickets on sale now. Tickets for non-members on sale Friday, Feb. 14. Call 305-237-3456(FILM) or visit miamifilmfestival.com.
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