‘New horizons’ in his sights: Miami Film Festival director steps down after 12 years

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After 12 years, Jaie Laplante, executive director for the Miami Film Festival, will step down from his role at the end of this month, he told the Herald.

Though the decision was hard to make, Laplante said that “it’s time to pass the baton to someone new.” Laplante said he is leaving to “explore new horizons,” though he is not ready to announce his plans yet.

“I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot, and we’ve made great strides in supporting Miami filmmakers and filmmakers from all over the world,” Laplante said. “It’s been really the greatest experience of my life.”

Miami Dade College, which produces the festival, will conduct a nationwide search to find the new executive director in June after Laplante leaves the position on May 31, said MDC communications director Juan Mendieta.

“It’s a flagship cultural event for South Florida, so it’s important that we have a good director in place to guide this festival into the future,” Mendieta said.

Festival director Jaie Laplante, left, poses with music icon Raphael, of Spain, during the opening the 2016 Miami Film Festival at the Olympia Theater.
Festival director Jaie Laplante, left, poses with music icon Raphael, of Spain, during the opening the 2016 Miami Film Festival at the Olympia Theater.

Originally from Alberta, Canada, Laplante came to Miami to work at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2001. He later worked for the Miami Short Film Festival and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival before landing the executive director role at Miami Film Festival in 2010.

During his tenure, Laplante focused heavily on featuring homegrown Miami filmmakers alongside international movies at the festival. Colleagues lauded his dedication to supporting local filmmakers and Miami-based films through his leadership and programming.

“One of Jaie’s biggest accomplishments has been folding them into the fabric of the festival, not making them into this little sidebar,” said Rene Rodriguez, manager of the Bill Cosford Cinema and former Herald film critic. Rodriguez, who met Laplante at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival decades ago, said Laplante’s experience at other festivals prepared him well for the challenging executive director position.

“Each job that he had led him to this one, and I think that’s why he’s been so successful at Miami Film Festival,” he said.

Filmmaker Kareem Tabsch, co-founder of art house nonprofit O Cinema, agreed. The next director has big shoes to fill, he said.

“His tenure at the festival was really marked by this love of the city, a love of movies and bringing those two things together,” Tabsch said.

Jaie Laplante shows off a poster for the Miami Film Festival in 2013.
Jaie Laplante shows off a poster for the Miami Film Festival in 2013.

Laplante’s love for movies was sparked when he was 11. Instead of seeing the latest Disney animation, his aunt took him to see a drama featuring Elizabeth Taylor.

His fascination with film eventually led him down an unconventional career path. In the early 1980s, at 14, Laplante devoured cinema and religiously read film reviews. One local critic caught his attention, because Laplante thought he was usually wrong.

He sent a letter to the editor complaining about the critic. When the editor finally called Laplante, he had an offer: The critic was leaving the newspaper, so he asked Laplante if he’d like to be his replacement.

Laplante had a deep voice over the phone, so the editor had no idea he was offering a newspaper column to a teenager. It wasn’t until a few published columns later, when Laplante came to the office to pick up his check, that the newspaper staff realized how old he was.

After studying film and working in Toronto and Los Angeles, he eventually landed in Miami, a city he fell in love with. At the time, Miami was more of a place where Hollywood celebrities bought vacation homes or filmed blockbusters. Since then, a burgeoning community of Miami-born filmmakers emerged, and the Miami Film Festival was there to give them a platform.

In 2018, after Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” won the Academy Award for best picture, Laplante noticed a major confidence boost among Miami filmmakers. He proposed the creation of the Knight Made in MIA Award to keep the momentum going and support local talent even further.

Though he’s excited for Miami’s film scene, Laplante is concerned about its future. He said he’s particularly worried that the rising cost of living will push out the local artists that organizations like Miami Film Festival worked so hard to cultivate. He recalled speaking with filmmakers who had to move out of their apartments when their rent doubled overnight.

“That’s the next challenge,” he said. “It’s for us to find ways to keep our artists strong, connected and supported here in Miami.”

Regardless of the challenges to come, Laplante said he looks forward to supporting the festival and the new director.

“My love for the festival is so strong and my love for Miami is so strong, I’m not really saying goodbye,” he said. “I’ll be connected for life.”

This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.

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