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Jaie Laplante, new director of the Miami International Film Festival, gets his wish

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Jaie Laplante, new director of the upcoming Miami International Film Festival, says that even as a little boy in Alberta, Canada, film was “in my blood.” His early interest in movies was so great, his mother thought nothing unusual about his 1980 Christmas request when he was 10: a copy of film critic Pauline Kael’s book, Taking It All In.

“It was what I wanted,” Laplante recalls. “If she thought it was too weird, she’d have gotten me a soccer ball. Besides, it was Christmas, and you can’t play soccer in the snow.”

Laplante’s interest in movies never faltered. He studied film at York University in Toronto, and after graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in film and video production, he moved to Los Angeles and “got to know the independent film scene there.”

He starred in a 1995 film, Frisk, about a gay serial killer — his only acting experience. “That’s not my forte,” Laplante admits.

But he liked living in California. “When I moved to L.A. the first thing that struck me was the light,” he says. “We’re so accustomed to seeing that texture and light on film, it looked like a movie. I found L.A. to be very exciting. It’s eclectic. It’s like living on the far coast. The rest of America is asleep, and we can do what we want.”

Laplante worked off-camera in a few independent films and did some modeling. After a year, he returned to Toronto. “I needed to re-center myself.”

He wrote and became an events producer. Twelve years ago, he moved to Miami Beach.

“I’m so happy and comfortable here. More than when I was in L.A. and Toronto,” Laplante says. “Miami in a lot of ways is a small town. I’m from a small town in Canada. When I’m doing business with people, most people I do business with know people I know. I like that collision about Miami. It’s wonderful. It’s not really like the rest of America. It’s not Latin America or Europe, either, but it’s between two worlds.”

In 2001, Laplante answered an ad in a Miami gay newspaper for a job at the fledgling Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. He was hired to run the festival’s ticketing operation. After a management shakeup at the festival — in debt more than $200,000 — Laplante was promoted to manager. “I contacted all the vendors we owed money to, faced their anger and told them what we would do. ... If we had to send them $25 every week or two, we’d stick to a plan and work with it,” said Laplante, adding that he and then-festival program director Carol Coombes sometime waived their salaries.

Eventually, Laplante says, the festival paid off its debt.

In 2006, Lee Brian Schrager, founder and director of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, hired Laplante away from the gay film festival to be associate director of the food fest.

“I wasn’t a friend of Jaie. I was a supporter of the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. I saw that he kept it afloat,” Schrager says. “I was impressed by his programming, the staff that they had and the level of the events they were holding on a budget.”

Laplante spent four years working with Schrager, eventually also helping launch the New York City Wine & Food Festival.

“Jaie is the most level-headed, not-emotional person I’ve dealt with,” Schrager says. “He’s a quick thinker, a logical thinker and very even keeled.”

Schrager says he was less than happy when Laplante told him last year that he had applied for the director’s job at the Miami International Film Festival.

“I knew he was out of here,” Schrager says. “But I didn’t think it would be this year. ... I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to hold him back. I thought I had him for another year. I was not prepared for it.”

Still, says Schrager, “I prayed that he got the job. I couldn’t imagine how upset he would have been if he hadn’t gotten that job.”

In August 2010, Miami Dade College announced that Laplante would direct the Miami International Film Festival, which runs March 4-13 this year.

College President Eduardo Padrón calls Laplante “a seasoned professional with unique skills in both managing the business and the art of programming major festivals.”

“Most importantly, he brings the magic ingredient of passion, not only for film, but also for Miami,” Padrón wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. “We are confident Jaie will take the Miami International Film Festival to new heights, and look forward to the 2011 edition.”

Laplante is the third festival director in the past five years.

“This festival was quite a bit more stable than what I inherited when I took over the gay film festival,” says Laplante, 41, who lives in Miami Shores with husband Nelson Polanco, a singer. The couple married almost four years ago in Alberta, Canada.

Laplante believes the film festival needs “a Miami stamp.”

“I’m very excited that the festival’s program this year was designed for the city,” Laplante says “It takes in aspects of this town that are really big, like sports, art, food, the pop culture of our nightlife — the Ocean Drive style that the world has an image of.”


The Miami International Film Festival, produced and presented by Miami Dade College, runs March 4-13. Visit www.miamifilmfestival.com for details.


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