Thom Powers, the documentary programmer for the Miami and Toronto film festivals, says one of the first things Laplante did when he began overseeing the festival was to hire him.
“Jaie sensed documentaries were a growing force in the overall landscape of cinema,” Powers says. “I spend time in South Florida each year and for a long time I tried to get the staff to get more involved with docs. After Jaie asked me to come on board, the number of documentaries in the festival grew.”
To wit, this year’s is the first festival to open and close with documentaries ( Twenty Feet from Stardom, a look at backup singers who rarely get their due, and Venus and Serena, about the world-famous tennis-playing sisters). In addition to the festival’s existing documentary competition, Laplante added a new category, Doc-You-Up, to make room for more nonfiction films from around the world.
Another category added this year is Lee Brian Schrager’s Culinary Cinema, featuring three films selected by the founder and director of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
“From June to November, Jaie would send me films to screen and I picked the ones I liked best,” says Schrager, who will also host a Franco-Brazilian brunch at noon Sunday at the Miami Beach restaurant Juvia before the screening of one of his documentary Why Did You Leave?, about a group of French chefs who move to Brazil.
Another new program, Miami Future Film Critics , will allow seven writers ages 21 to 30 to cover the festival like professional critics and present their own awards on closing night.
That program is a perfect example of how the college continues to use the festival as an educational tool as well as a cultural event — and hopes to continue doing it for another 30 years.
“This is a milestone year for the festival, which is the only major film festival housed, produced and presented by an institution of higher education,” said Alina Interían, executive director of cultural affairs at Miami Dade College. “The festival is a year-round effort, and it is made possible by all the members of the college family who contribute so passionately and intensely to its organization. I am proud that we are able to offer 10 days of thought-provoking opportunities to our students and to the community. As long as Miami supports and appreciates the event, we are committed to continue to bring them this great gift.”