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Perfect Atmosphere & Common Ground: The 2009 Palm Beach International Film Festival

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The sun sets over the cityscape as beauty rushes inside with the cool night air. The elevator rises to the top floor where wealthy patrons humbly support a tradition that is held so dear. The Atlantic sea breeze engulfs the roof of Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. Welcome to the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

Palm Beach has always been synonymous with wealth, culture, and relaxation. Where else could be such a perfect setting for a festival? The opening night party that swirled upon the roof gave everyone a taste of things to come. Local prestigious restaurants hosted their signature dishes and cocktail creations. Models showcased the newest designs. The vibe was high and yet this confab had barely begun. As a festival honoree gets into the swing of the evening surrounded by the previously mentioned models, the die is cast. In addition to fun, there is a sense of community everyone from staff to celebrities to attendees.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival has the unique ability to choose films that are timely and effective. The first of note is “Machan”, a brilliant film about a persecuted group of athletes who forge together to form a handball team and escape from the slums of Sri Lanka. However it was the comedic hijinks of this film that made it a winner. It spoke to the originality of the programming at the festival which offers everything from coming-of-age comedies to cutting edge animation to heartfelt documentaries.

Dream Riders“, a documentary starring former school teacher William Roulston, tells the story of a father reconnecting with his son by cycling cross-country. The festival audience applauded the film in that there was a difficult balance to be maintained between the real life relationship between a boy and his dad and the film they were making.  After talking to Roulston during a gracious ride back to the headquarter hotel,  a realization of the “truth” to the process of filmmaking became evident. “Dream Riders” shows that reality can actually be captured on film.

Another standout at the fest was “Only Love“, an animated short that breathes new life into 2D animation and is directed with gusto by Lev Polyakov. The film tells the story of a foreign dictator coming to grips with his own mortality and facing the demons of his past. Merging Russian archetypes and surrealist imagery, this jewel highlights a maturity that makes it exceptional.

In another highlight, the short film “Stealing Second” knows what it is and adheres to a current trend in American cinema. Young filmmakers are plentiful but one has to understand the market. The director and star of “Second”, Alex Richanbach, embraces the new wave of R-rated comedies and uses it to his advantage. The story involves his character needing to move forward with a hot blonde girl after accidentally going to “second base”. The dialogue shines and helps propel the film forward. Richanbach’s structure in the film mirrors other directors like Greg Mottola and Judd Apatow (who incidentally he worked for as a PA on the film “Stepbrothers”). Rising talents are hard to spot (especially in this industry) but with Richanbach, it was apparent.

After two days of festing, it is difficult to escape the surf and sun. But a big event awaits. The GALA. Every year Palm Beach invites the most prestigious of its citizens to the Boca Raton Resort & Club for a night of dancing and surprise guests. Celebrities from W’s James Cromwell to Emmy Award winner Christine Baranski walked the red carpet showing their support.  The ballroom was lavished in flowers, decorations and a vintage band right out of a David Lynch movie. Cromwell received the career achievement award which he shared with his family who attended the event.  The highlight of the the evening however was Charles Martin Smith (of “The Untouchables” fame) presenting the Visionary Award to director Joel Zwick (who directed “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”). The surprise was a video message from Tom Hanks that was both hilarious and heartfelt. Zwick had basically discovered Hanks for “Bosom Buddies”. The dance and drink continued into the night.

The aspect of this festival that differentiates it from others is the accessibility of the attendees to the talent. Everybody hangs out. Normally at most festivals, there are VIP lounges where only a limited few congregate. But, at the PBIFF, interaction is welcomed. A good example of this relaxed atmosphere was the Closing Night party at hotspot The Addison where an open courtyard lavished with gothic trees danced around as the award winners discussed the events of the day.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival is a place where the vibe is both relaxing and motivated, especially for young filmmakers. The atmosphere with the nearby ocean and mild climate is a perfect fit. It is a place where all can meet on common ground.

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