The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 02, 2016

Knight awards at Miami International Film Festival to recognize best dramatic works, documentary

Posted by Fernando Gonzalez

Above: Dawn Porter's movie, "Trapped." Courtesy Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival.

Film festivals are both showcases and competitions. The 33rd edition of Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, which begins Friday, will offer 100 feature films and documentaries and 29 shorts. The works represent 40 countries and include their share of premieres, big name actors, directors and producers. Notably, this year, 46 of the films were directed or co-directed by women.

"Trapped" director Dawn Porter. Courtesy Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival.

The festival’s competitions feature six categories, including the Knight Competition, which is open to dramatic works and is awarded by a jury, and the Knight Documentary Achievement Award, which is open to all documentaries in the festival’s Official Selection and is voted on by the audience, a system first implemented last year. Both award prize money. Films participating in the Knight Competition are eligible for $30,000 to be split between the lead production company and the U.S. distributor of the film. The grand jury will also award two cash prizes of $5,000 each, one for Best Director and one for Best Performance. The winner of the Knight Documentary Achievement Award will receive $10,000.

 “The Knight Documentary Achievement Award, especially, has been a huge success,” said Jaie Laplante, executive director and director of programming at the festival. “The audience got very excited by the opportunity to vote and influence where the money was going to go, so we saw a noticeable rise in the participation in terms of audience balloting. We wanted … to reinvigorate the category and it really worked, so we are continuing with it. Nothing breeds success like success.”

Every person attending a screening receives a ballot to rate the film on a scale of 1 to 5. The votes are later tabulated and considered with other factors, such as what percentage the submitted ballots represent of the total available seats in that screening.

As for the Knight Competition, “we made a new requirement for participation, which was that the films had to be directed by filmmakers who have directed at least one previous official selection in any of the 32 previous festivals,” Laplante said. “That meant that rather than focusing on the Ibero-American world, we opened up to the world at large and we’ve got a really wide variety of films.”


"Dheepan" and director Jacques Audiard.


"Mountains May Depart" and director Zhang Ke Jia

"Truman" and director Cesc Gay.

All images courtesy Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival.

Every year we get more interest; people want to be part of the festival,” he said. “And it’s great because we then get a wide variety of subjects. We get more and more international entries. We get films from places we didn’t use to get submissions, like the Middle East or China.”

The other awards at the Miami International Film Festival are the Lexus Ibero-American Feature Film Competition, a juried competition open to all new U.S. Hispanic and Ibero-American films in the festival’s Official Selection, with a $10,000 cash prize; the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriting Competition for first-time screenwriters, with a $5,000 cash prize; and the Shorts Competition, with a $2,500 cash prize.

The festival also includes the CinemaSlam, a film school competition showcasing the work of undergraduate and graduate students in South Florida’s film schools.

All films are also eligible to compete for Best Feature and Best Short audience awards.

This year’s films include “Dheepan,” a French film, winner of Cannes’ Palm d’Or, directed by Jacques Audiard; “The Apostate,” a French-Spanish-Uruguayan production; “Truman,” a Spanish-Argentine production starring Ricardo Darín, the protagonist of the Academy Award-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes”;Mountain,” a film from Israel; and Mountains May Depart,” a film from China (“Our collaboration with the Confucius Institute really helped get the Miami name out in China,” said Laplante).

Such broad range, both thematically as well as geographically and culturally, is what sets the Miami International Film Festival apart, said Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter.

 “I go to a lot of different festivals as a filmmaker and as a fan, and I love the program in Miami. It’s completely different from anything you find anywhere else in the country,” she said. She is, as Laplante would put it, “a Miami International Film Festival alum.” Her film “Gideon’s Army,” which focused on the plight of public defenders in the justice system, won the festival’s Knight Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in 2013. This year she is participating in both, the Knight Competition and the Documentary Achievement Award with “Trapped,” a film about abortion clinics in the Deep South.

“What Miami does so well is that it has this emphasis in a lot of different cultures,” said Porter. “You feel there's an effort to really look for films that show a variety of backgrounds and interests.”

Fernando González is a Miami-based arts and culture writer. He can be reached via email at Connect with him on Twitter @fergonzMIA.  

The Miami International Film Festival runs March 4–13 at locations around South Florida. Visit for more information.

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