Around Town: Real movie fans prefer Palm Beach Film Fest over others

Robert Morse with Randi Emerman and Rick McCoy at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Photo provided

By Thom Smith

    If you want bright lights, head for the big city. Big bucks and exotic cars and a penthouse suite? Try Cannes. Mucho-chic and mucho celeb? Make Sundance your destination.
    But if you stay around as the credits roll to learn who shot and edited … if you care about what actors do on the screen, not off …  if you love cinema on a small screen …  in other words, if you’re a real movie fan, then the Palm Beach International Film Festival is for you.  
    Sure, you get names. The previous 19 festivals have attracted the likes of Esther Williams, Selma Hayek, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence. This year, Jason Priestley touted his first directing job; Robert Morse, still going at 82, offered proof that the really talented can blithely slip from stage to movies to TV without blinking.
    Occasionally a sleeper wakes up: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, first screened in Palm Beach, made $350 million.
    You get parties — just not as lavish — after major screenings at Bogart’s in Boca’s Cinemark Palace 20 and a VIP bash at Eau Palm Beach for a very un-Hollywood $75.
    No battery of searchlights, no chauffeured Bentley or Rolls limo to deliver Priestley and Morse to the theaters and no blinding spotlights inside. Down in front, mikes in hand, in the same low light as their audience, they spoke from the heart about their work.
    “We can’t bring in big a filmmaker and pay for all his expenses,” festival President Randi Emerman said, noting that it survives on a budget around $100,000. “A lot of people from the industry are here, and what they see in the program here is far superior to many other festivals that have lots more money to spend. We put a lot of detail into nailing down the best program we can.
    “To do it right, we would need a budget of $700,000, which is still a lot less than many festivals that don’t have near the quality. We’re able to do it on a budget of less than $100,000 because a lot of talented people are willing to help and our volunteers have stepped up big time.”
    Emerman was thrilled that Cinemark finally joined Muvico and Cobb as presenters. She also singled out the contribution of Burt Rapoport, who hosted three post-screening events at his Bogart’s in-theater  restaurant in Boca.
    Tie-ins with Sundance and Toronto give Palm Beach more credibility. The filmmakers take good vibes about the area to their home countries, and down the road that brings people, and money, back.   
    And although Emerman wonders every year if the festival will return, she already is planning. After all, it will be the 20th. “I just wish we could get more people who live here to come out,” she said. “I still haven’t figured that out.”
    For every Selma Hayek or Robert Redford, the movie business attracts the likes of Randye Ringler and Grace McPhillips, dedicated to their craft or a cause and eager to grab any opportunity to tout their work.
    For much of her life, Ringler has worked in professional baseball, including 15 years with the New York Mets. Now she’s latched on to the Asian version of Field of Dreams. She teamed up with filmmaker Mirra Bank to push The Only Real Game. Based in Manipuri, a region in northwest India, it tells the story of residents that have played baseball since 1944 when American GIs were managing air deliveries to Asia. Today the region is wracked with unemployment, drug and gun violence and HIV/AIDS, yet the residents still play baseball. And Ringler will be delighted to bend your ear about it.
    McPhillips was a teenage beauty queen in Alabama, studied at Elon College in North Carolina, toured with Broadway theater companies and made the occasional movie before marrying and settling down in Chicago. She’s on the Midwest board of Screen Actors Guild and founded Chicago Acting in Film Meetup, a professional organization for actors in the Chicago area.
    McPhillips came to Delray to plug The Other One as writer, producer and star. Several other films are in the works, plus a trip to Cannes this month, then back to Chicago where she and husband Corbett Lunsford also run Green Dream Group. Its goal: to make Chicago a better place for everyone to live by improving buildings through independent, scientific building diagnostics.
    Yet she still must pinch her pennies. After a media meet-and-greet at Delray’s new downtown Hyatt, she had a screening of The Other One at Boca’s Cinemark. How far is it? How much is a cab? — she asked in quick succession. Fortunately for her, a festival fan offered her a ride. Imagine that happening in Cannes?
    More news from the Rapoport kitchen: Burt has broken ground on Apiero Kitchen & Bar, at The Marketplace in Delray. Right next door to Burt & Max’s, his joint venture with Dennis Max, it’ll offer Mediterranean cuisine.
    And concerns about parking by Rapoport and other merchants and patrons may be assuaged somewhat by the County Commission. Members voted April 24 to allow the center to use four additional acres in the adjacent agricultural reserve for 439 parking spaces, a 40 percent increase. In exchange, the center’s developers agreed to preserve nine acres for agriculture and open space. Perhaps they could erect an educational center, a model farm, where kids and adults, as well, could learn where milk, eggs, filet mignon, and the like, come from.
    Meanwhile, let’s hope Burt and his four executive chefs can find a parking space in Manhattan when they visit the James Beard House on May 22. At the invitation of the Beard Foundation, Jon Greening of Deck 84, Jay Prisco of Burt & Max’s, Ben Burger of Henry’s and corporate pastry chef David Innes will prepare a “Fresh From Florida” menu including tuna sashimi tacos, black grouper paella and roasted Jackman Florida Waygu beef tenderloin.
    Interesting relocation: The Social Security Administration, formerly housed in a Delray Beach strip mall near Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail, has moved to somewhat more glamorous quarters in Boca — the high-rise building that houses GEO Group, the international for-profit prison company. The building, incidentally, is owned by Canpro Investments Ltd., a Canadian company.
    GEO is catching it from another direction. A coalition of 25 advocacy groups delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to the Seattle-area headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, asking the mega-charity to end its relationship with GEO. A spokesman for Gates, which invested $2.2 million in GEO in 2012, responded: “… Some of the lack of clarity in the criticism, is this understandably complex structure that we have where the foundation invests in life-saving technologies, in U.S. schools, in making sure people living with AIDS in Africa are less likely to die. … The trust invests in a lot of things to make sure we have the most money we can have to do that job.”
    Dealing with crackback blocks in the NFL is nothing compared to the Florida real estate market. Back in 2004, former University of Miami and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis bought a beachfront home in sleepy Highland Beach for $5.22 million. In 2012 he led his Ravens to the Super Bowl title and retired with honors — twice NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP — but all that hardware couldn’t boost the value of his home. After more than two years on the market, the four-story Mediterranean design  recently sold for $4.775 million, close to half a million below list.
    Buyers are reported to be Dragos Alexe and Susanne Kramer, but no additional information was provided. Internet records list a Dragos Alexe as the founder and CEO of DAX Technologies, a telecommunications software company based in Matawan, N.J., that was sold in February for $37 million.

FAU President John Kelly visits FAU’s Karen Slattery Educational Research Center for Early Childhood Development and speaks to students about gardening as part of Earth Day. Photo provided
    John Kelly, fresh in as president at FAU, isn’t the only new face on campus. Michael Curry, who played for seven NBA teams in 11 years is the Owls’ new basketball coach.  Curry, who played his collegiate ball at Georgia Southern, will make a reported $325,000 in the first year of a six-year contract. That’s $75,000 more than departed coach Mike Jarvis.  He comes to Boca Raton from Philadelphia after three years as associate head coach for the NBA 76ers. He also served four years as president of the NBA Players Association and in the 2008-09 season, his only season as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, led them to the playoffs.
    Curry wasted no time signing a major prospect, returning to Detroit to sign 6-5 swingman Maceo Baston II. Top-quality player, Curry said, but equally important, a top student.
    Looking for an LED balloon? No misspelling, mind you, we’re talking LEDs, as in light-emitting diodes, that show up in everything from kid’s shoes to automobile headlights, and from 6 to 10 p.m. May 15 in Delray’s Pineapple Grove district, will illuminate 300 balloons for the year’s first “Evening on the Avenue.”
    “One of our goals is to showcase light as art,” Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative special events manager Jarrod White said. A three-dimension light wall will provide the backdrop for music by Drew Tucker & Brass Monkey. More entertainment will come from roots rocker Brendan O’Hara, the Lynn University String Quartet, sidewalk art and face painting, the first in a series of citywide scavenger hunts and a “Chill Lounge” in the new Hyatt.

    Around the corner, Arts Garage is celebrating the gift of $100,000 to its Creative City Collaborative from Impact 100 Palm Beach, a philanthropic women’s organization serving southern Palm Beach County. The grant will expand two programs, Stage It and Drumline, which help kids, many of them at-risk, to develop artistic skills while learning positive forms of expression. Drumline works with youths after school and during the summer, when they’re often unsupervised, to provide music instruction and opportunities to  perform. With its in-school and after-school programs, the Theatre Education Project helps students  experience the creative and expressive possibilities of music and theatre by attending professional performances and completing an intensive curriculum.
    Additional $100,000 grants were awarded to Florence Fuller Child Development Centers and Achievement Centers for Children and Families.
    Auf Wiedersehen, Bad Ragaz. Up in Boynton’s Las Ventanas complex at the corner of Federal and Woolbright, the bierhalle has given way to Lucertola Ristorante & Birreria. Call it a locational conflict. Bad Ragaz is a popular spa, not in Germany or Austria, but in Switzerland, albeit the German-speaking region of Switzerland. The self-serve beer taps at the tables weren’t popular enough to keep customers coming back. La familia Silvestri, which has enjoyed a good run with Tramonti in Delray, decided to switch to Italian in Boynton.
    To give it a special kick, they moved Tramonti’s executive chef to Lucertola, where he turns out the likes of chicken saltimboca, penne carbonara, polenta and gorgonzola fries with truffle mayo and — sounds intriguing — Mediterranean lamb burger on pretzel roll with arugula, cucumber, feta and tapenade served with sweet fries.
    TV has its “voice” and its “idols,” but chances of finding a contestant over 30 are slim and none. Nevertheless, America’s got lots of talent over 30 — even over 65, and you can find it not on recording tracks, but on the railroad tracks.
    On Sunday, May 18 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, a dozen singers 65 and older — eight from Palm Beach County — will compete in Tri-Rail’s “Senior Idol” finals. They were tops among more than 100 singers who competed in April. The winner won’t have to pass from car to car singing opera or Sinatra favorites, but he or she may be in the next seat, as the grand prize is $500 and a free one-year Tri-Rail pass.
    Local talent includes Diane Cestari, Deanne Friedberg and Penny Mandel from Boca Raton; Ron Silver, Beverly Sisisky, Nanci Suzanne and Joanie Walters from Boynton and Lou Villano from Palm Beach Gardens.
    He hasn’t been home in more than 40 years, but Reza Pahlavi has not given up hope that one day he will return to Iran. Unless or until the political realities change, he will continue as “shah-in-exile” to make his case for a secular, democratic nation wherever he is given a forum. On May 20 at City Fish Market in Boca Raton, he’ll make his case at a luncheon meeting of the recently formed Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club. Guest tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the door. (852-0000).
    Gone, and probably soon forgotten: Boca’s 101 Cantina closed unexpectedly in early April. No reason was published for the demise of the popular collegiate hangout on the backside of Boca’s Royal Palm Place, and all mention of it disappeared from the website of the parent company, which also operates 101s in Gainesville and Tallahassee. The closing no doubt drew cheers, not tears, from city police who had made 98 arrests there since it opened last June. Underage drinking was a big problem.
    The space is controlled by Boca resident Mitchell Kaminsky, who has announced that it will soon become the Filling Station Gastropub, no connection to Miami’s popular Filling Station and Garage Bar. No doubt the cops hope customers don’t overfill their tanks.
    Up in Manalapan’s Plaza Del Mar, the Plaza Theatre will host a ribbon cutting May 8 for its new Club Plaza, a new dining and entertainment cabaret and piano bar offering the likes of jazz and chamber music, while hosting seminars, weddings and other social events.  
    Benvenuto in Boynton Beach will host A Taste of Boynton, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. June 12, Participating restaurants include the Backyard, Carolina Ale House, Secret Garden Cafe at the Green Market, LongHorn Steakhouse, Culinary Solutions Catering, Banana Boat, Prime Catch, Village Tavern and GFS Marketplace. Entertainment by John Dustin Flamenco Fusion. For tickets, $35, call Greater Boynton Beach Chamber of Commerce, 732-9501.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer. Reach him at

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