By Hap Erstein
ArtsPaper Film Writer
Remember when the Palm Beach International Film Festival was born? Believe it or not, that was 20 years ago, and the eight-day celebration of movies from around the world that begins on March 26 will “dazzle and surprise our audiences like they’ve never seen before,” according to the festival’s president and CEO, Randi Emerman.
Some 130 films — features, shorts and documentaries — will unspool at venues throughout Palm Beach County, including 12 world premieres and 15 United States premieres. Filmmakers and screen talent, including the remarkable young subject of the Oscar-winning Boyhood, Ellar Coltrane, will be in attendance, as well as songwriter George McCrae.
Independent director Shira Piven, whose career has been nurtured by PBIFF, will open the festival with her latest feature, Welcome to Me, and director Noah Baumbach closes it with his new film, While We’re Young, following a retrospective of his body of work.
Perhaps the most tangible evidence of the festival’s financial health is the announcement that it will be acquiring the darkened Plaza Theatre in Manalapan as a year-round venue, to show films, hold seminars and other educational events, as well as renting out the space for live theater.
Just as the festival has matured over two decades, so have many of the filmmakers showcased here. For instance, Piven’s first feature, Fully Loaded, was in the 2009 Palm Beach festival and it won the Audience Favorite Award. She has since been back with a documentary, and now she returns in the coveted lead-off spot with Welcome to Me, a story of good luck that evolves into a compelling and darkly humorous drama. Featured in the cast are Kristin Wiig, James Marsden, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack. Director Piven will attend.
Emerman describes it as a “quirky comedy. I don’t know how Kristin Wiig stays straight-faced throughout this movie. I couldn’t imagine being there and not laughing.”
The bookend of the festival will be Baumbach’s While We’re Young, an exploration of aging, ambition, and success whose cast includes Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller, Adam Driver and Charles Grodin. During the week, such Baumbach films as Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha will be screened.
At presstime a month away from the festival, it was still evolving, but here are some highlights so far:
• The world premiere of Any Day, about an ex-fighter finding redemption from his troubled past, with cast members Kate Walsh and Tom Arnold confirmed to attend.
• A special screening of The Record Man, a documentary on Henry Stone and TK Records. • The return of The Jewish Experience, a collection of current, cutting-edge Jewish/Israeli-centric films, including two world premieres, an official Oscar submission (Bulgarian Rhapsody), and an Ophir (Israel’s equivalent to the Academy Awards) nominee for Best Film (Is That You?).
• Coltrane, who grew before our eyes over a 12-year-period in Boyhood, will be honored at the festival with its Shooting Star Award.
• In a tribute to the late Michael Clarke Duncan, fondly remembered for an appearance at PBIFF several years ago, there will be a screening of his last movie, The Challenger, about a Bronx boxer trying to fight his way to a better life. Writer-director-star Kent Moran will be in attendance and “Michael will be here in spirit,” adds Emerman.
The festival hopes to open its permanent venue in Manalapan’s Plaza del Mar later this year, after sprucing up the theater and making necessary equipment installations. “We will show films there throughout the year,” says Emerman. “It’s a great space. It gives us a home year-round.”
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