The Film Fest’s New Direction
by brett sokol
It’s not easy to rattle Jaie Laplante. But the newly hired director of the Miami International Film Festival has plenty of good reasons to be anxious: Laplante is the fifth director to helm the Festival over the past decade, a disturbing employment pattern, and one that speaks to an ongoing identity crisis on the part of the Fest itself.
“I’m not intimidated,” Laplante says matter-of-factly, sitting inside his office on the downtown campus of the Festival’s host, Miami Dade College. So no escape parachute stuffed inside his briefcase? “I feel different from the previous directors in the sense that I’m from here, I’m a part of the community,” he counters. His predecessors “didn’t come here to live. They came here to work.”
|A scene from Susanna Bier’s In a Better World|
A native of Alberta, Canada, Laplante first arrived in Miami in 1998. Thirteen years later, “I definitely understand this city and what a mass of contradictions it is. I embrace it!” He points to his own Miami Shores neighborhood, just up the road from where nationally renowned restaurants and streetwalkers coexist: “I’ve always felt the most comfortable where you can go to sleep in your beautifully manicured house, and across the street is a drag queen prostitute smashing in her john’s car window with a trash can,” he says with a laugh. “I like that buzz!”
Indeed, Laplante is well-acquainted with drama. In his previous job as associate director of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, he dealt with more than a few divas—culinary and otherwise. (Miami Dade College officials are clearly hoping Laplante’s wooing skills extend to enticing some Wine & Food Fest corporate sponsors into developing an appreciation of cinema.) Prior to that gig, Laplante served as codirector of the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, helping to rescue it from crippling debts at a time when many questioned whether—following the ouster of its founding director—it was even worth saving.
But the most colorful line on Laplante’s résumé is his role in 1995’s Frisk, a graphic, often gruesome, exploration of the darker side of gay sado-masochism. The movie remains polarizing—its premiere at the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival drew mass walkouts and angry boos. Yet the picture has its share of present-day defenders, including the appreciative website Cinemale, where Laplante can be viewed in all his character’s stripped-to-his-underwear glory.
|From Fernando Trueba’s Chico & Rita|
Photographs by Gary James (Laplante); Morten Soborg/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics (In A Better World); Courtesy of Miami International Film Festival (Chico & Rita)