Miami International Film Festival

Published on March 2nd, 2014

Film Festival Miami International

Jaie Laplante Film Festival

Jaie Laplante, Executive Director of MIFF

It often makes for a rather inelegant anniversary: 31 years. However, with 30 years behind it and 40 years looming in the far distance, Miami International Film Festival director Jaie Laplante seems to like it even more than hitting the three-decade mark. To him, it means a fresh start. “I really looked at the 31st year as a chance to kick off a new decade and start creating new memories,” he said, speaking via phone from his office. “We just really started off by saying how can we be original, how can we surprise people, how can we keep people guessing about what Miami Film Festival is all about?”

The opening night of the 31st Annual MIFF was about a month away, as it stood, when we spoke, Laplante had only recently confirmed three high-profile films, which brings the festival total to 97 features and 28 short films from 38 countries. Asked if more surprise bookings might arise, Laplante answered, “I never say never, but I’m not planning on it. You know, with 97 features in the program, it’s pretty much where we were at last year, which was a great size … Unless something really, really amazing comes along that I cannot say no to, I think this will be it.”

At a press conference, a few days earlier, on the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade College, which serves as the administrative body for MIFF, Laplante invited several local filmmakers featured in this year’s festival to take the stage with him. This could very well be the biggest year ever featuring local filmmakers. “I had heard feedback from people that they hadn’t felt the film festival had been entirely welcoming to local filmmakers or local talent,” noted Laplante. “I’m not sure I one hundred percent agree with that. I think that the film festival, at various points in its history, embraced local filmmakers. But regardless of what perception or reality was in the past, I wanted to make sure that I as a director was embracing the local talent.”

"Chub" by Samuel “Sammy” Albis Film Festival

“Chub” by Samuel “Sammy” Albis

He said he did not give any special favoritism to local filmmakers and vetted the submissions just as he would any other film. “There’s a definite standard to getting into the Miami International Film Festival,” he stated, “and I’m pleased there were a significant number of films that we were able to select and stand behind, and say that these are of international caliber that happen to be made by our filmmakers, and we’re really proud of them.”

Miami filmmakers have gradually been making waves outside of the local scene. Some filmmakers first featured in the homegrown visual feast that is the Borscht Film Festival had buzzy films in Sundance, including Bernardo Britto, who won the animation award this year. There’s a special difficult-to-reduce aesthetic by many local filmmakers, who often dabble in the surreal, existential and futuristic using a variety of media and styles, often within one film. “I’m still working out how to articulate that style,” admitted Laplante. “It’s a style that I think is unique. I mean Monica Peña’s film [Ectotherms] in particular, I think, really captures a combination of different people’s work. There’s Borscht filmmakers and there’s other factions of people that are producing work in Miami. What I like about Monica’s film is it somehow manages to address them all. It’s really interesting. I’m really startled by her. I think she’s quite something to watch and so young. You know, I can’t wait to see what she does next, and I think this film is really going to go places.”

Ectotherms by  Monica Peña Film Festival

Ectotherms by Monica Peña

PureHoney” ran an interview last month with the creator of the International Noise Conference, a man known in the scene simply as Rat Bastard. The INC will be represented by a three-minute short by Ronnie Rivera, which was filmed at last year’s INC. “It’s very radical,” noted Laplante. “It’s very experimental. It’s a real collision of image and sound. It’s kind of just something you see and experience,” he added with a laugh. “It’s a knockout. I actually haven’t been to the Noise Conference myself, but after seeing the film, it made me feel like it’s something I can’t miss.”

"Cherry Pop" by Kareem Tabsch Film Festival

“Cherry Pop” by Kareem Tabsch

Though this marks his fourth year as director of MIFF, when asked about the challenges of putting together this year’s program, he said it’s nothing really new. “Pulling a well-balanced program together is always a challenge,” he said. “Choosing the right films in your important slots is so important to get the tone across of what you want to achieve. First of all, I’m very careful about what I select, and once I get my heart set on something, there’s a process of trying to confirm it and lock it down, which results in many sleepless nights and many anxious moments, but I’m very, very happy with the films that we do have in those key pole positions. They’re really full of energy and they say a lot about Miami. They’re the films that I think Miami wants to see the most, and I’m glad I fought so hard for them.”

The Miami International Film Festival runs March 7 – March 16 and takes place in several venues across Miami-Dade. For tickets and more info: miamifilmfestival.com.

~ Hans Morgenstern | The Independent Ethos

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