NiteTalk: MIFF's Jaie Laplante on Landing River Phoenix's Last Movie

Legend plagued River Phoenix from Oregon Basin birth to Hollywood curbside death, so it’s no big surprise the legend continues apace even two decades after his tragic demise. What is surprising is even two decades of roadblocks, refusals, naysaying and downright subterfuge didn’t stop director George Sluizer from bringing the legend’s last movie to the big screen. The biggest surprise though is that the challenge-slaying lensman decided Dark Blood should have its U.S. Premiere at this year’s Miami International Film Festival. NBC6 got MIFF’s own Jaie Laplante to give us his take on the challenges of such a legendary occasion.

Congrats on Dark Blood -- care to tell us how you pulled off such a coup among coups? Thanks. The “coup” came about from a combination of dogged persistence, Miami International Film Festival's 30th anniversary year putting us in the forefront of the international spotlight, and director George Sluizer's generosity.

The film was 20 years in the making; how many moons did it take you to get the finished flick to make it to MIFF? Dark Blood is a film of legend. When rumors started to surface that George was starting to work on finishing it, we got interested.

Was this a case of “can’t-be-done” being all the more reason to make it happen? I think it's a labor of love for George, but also for closure. George was at a moment of great ascendancy as an artist when he was making this film; River's death, totally out of his control, interrupted the great momentum he was on, having just made his first Hollywood film the year before. The fact that he couldn't finish it or release it in 1994 as planned was a terrible interruption in his momentum; finishing the film brought him back to that moment when everything changed for him. It's as powerful of a story as the actual film itself.

Did you face similarly seemingly insurmountable challenges with any other of the films slated for MIFF 2013? There are challenges every year; MIFF 2013 is no exception. Winning the US premiere of Fernando Trueba's The Artist and the Model for MIFF 2013 was a particularly sweet victory, when so many great US Festivals like Telluride were after it.

How ‘bout in preceding years’ program? It's usually toughest when a sales agent is about to sell their film to a US distributor, and they don't want to jeopardize anything with the negotiations by confirming a film for you when they are in this point of business negotiations. Other times, for some films that are not in the market, you've got to spend a lot of time with a director, ensuring he or she will trust you with treating their film with the care with which they made it. Takes a lot of trust!

Of all the challenges you’ve faced as a Fest Director, what’s the one you most relish? I am a Canadian who is obsessed with Latin American and Spanish cinema, and I am focused on shaping MIFF as the U.S.'s premiere home turf for this particular cinema, yet my Spanish speaking skills are terrible! It doesn't phase me one bit. I'm the most Latino-focused non-Hispanic you've met in a long, long time.

What do you say to the challenges that lie ahead? Whatcha got for me?

Miami International Film Festival runs March 1st-10th. Formore information log on here.

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