Palm Beach Fest Offers A Few Surprise Finds
by Brandon Judell
What bad things can you say about a festival with the goal of raising money for local film students? This year the future helmers of Palm Beach, Florida, were awarded $100,000 from the proceeds of last year's cash surplus of the eighth annual Palm Beach International Film Festival, whose audience outnumbered last year's event.
And how can you downplay a fest's success when its gala is star-studded with the likes of Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker, Robert Evans, Adrien Brody (invited before his big Oscar win), Fay Wray, Carol Alt, and Brett Ratner -- plus rich folk willing to fork over a $1,000 a plate to hobnob with stars and other rich folks?
Graciously, some of these celebrities actually spoke to the attendees. Mr. Brody, who was saluted as the Palm Beach fest's outstanding performer of the year, noted with grace about "The Pianist": "Playing an individual who undergoes that much in a time of war makes you really consider a lot about what happens to innocent people in times of war. It also makes you very aware of how good we have it here in America, and how good young people have it here in America, and how much freedom we have here." (Wild applause.)
"Freedom to practice whatever religion we feel. Freedom to say just about whatever we wish to say without being beheaded. 'The Pianist' made me consider all those things, and those are all things that we should acknowledge. Also, whatever our feelings are about where we are with this war, we have to acknowledge that we have servicemen that are out there risking there lives, losing their lives to defend us and what our country stands for." (Cheers. Outrageous applause.)
Mr. Ratner, a board member of the festival and director of "Rush Hour" and its sequel, before he awarded Robert Evans a lifetime achievement award, gushed that Chris Tucker was "the most talented actor I've ever worked with." (So much for Anthony Hopkins.) He also gave "a very special shout out to someone who is a role model and a hero to everybody I've ever met in the world. This guy inspires me every single day and in every single moment that I'm with him," none other than Michael Jackson. Ratner also went so far as to call MJ "one of the best fathers I've ever met in my life."
But this festival was about more than galas and stars. Yes, it's about what's on the screens. Luckily for young filmmakers everywhere, the new executive director of the festival, the extremely nice Randi Emerman, chose her films mainly from the 400 submissions she received. Speaking to me at the dispiriting pool area at the Gulf Stream Hotel, the festival HQ that had its heyday possibly in the '40s, Ms. Emerman was upbeat. "This hotel is wonderful. We basically get to take it over," she said. "We want everybody to feel welcomed and to come here and have a good time, and to get to know us, and for us get to know them. I want everyone to feel that coming here is almost like coming to camp, so to speak." (It was an overly spread-out camp, with the three main venues separated by an extreme 47 miles).
Unlike other programmers, Emerman doesn't attend other festivals in an effort to keep her expenses low. Going to Cannes or Toronto would have to be deducted from the scholarship money given out each year. Consequently, films you might never see anywhere else were spotlighted here.
Yes, truly mediocre shorts such as Russell Costanzo's "The Wedding Bout," Andy Rovins's "Discovery," John C. Cronin and Rob Thomas' "Salaryman," Elizabeth Lucas's "Isabella Rico," and the truly painful "Killing Pedro Rivera" (which nevertheless won the audience prize for best short) were able to be viewed on the big screen. There were also distasteful features that could cure every insomniac-in-town's sleeplessness: Eric Perlmutter's "Season of Youth," Anthony Nichols' "The Egoists," Helen Lesnick's "A Family Affair," and Adrian Carr's cringeworthy TV-movie "Mind Games."
But to be fair, there might be a reason behind a wig looking horrendous in a film, the cast seeming amateurish, and the direction nonexistent. The creative talent behind "Mind Games" informed me "we shot in actually 17 days. The second day of shooting was September 11, 2001. So as we were filming the planes were crashing into the World Trade Center, and really the crew and the cast held together. We didn't stop filming because if we had we would never finished the picture." I kept my lips sealed.
But there were also some surprise finds among the calamities and the better-known works ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding," -- which played to 700 people outdoors -- "The Pianist," "The Good Thief," "Confidence," and "Marathon Man").
Among the shorts, Arie Posin's 15-minute "Over My Dead Body" was truly hilarious. Here, after a young man's one-nighter overdoses on Viagra, he shoves her body under the bed so his current galpal, a female cop, won't discover the corpse. Immediately, while he protests, the copper handcuffs him to the bed posts for some hot passion. Shortly, his gay male lover and canine will get into the act. Beautifully realized, this one has immense feature potential.
Jason Koffeman's "Polaroid" was also a first-class debut. Sort of a vicious guide for 19-year-olds who want to seduce older women, everything from the lighting to the screenplay was exemplary. Kofferman revealed, at the screening that turned out to be populated by mainly his family members, that "I'm the writer/director/producer. A couple of other things as well. It's my first project of this magnitude. It's 15 minutes, 35mm. I spent every dime I have on it. I'm from New York. I go to NYU." But if the gods are wise, he'll be residing in Hollywood quite soon.
As for what might turn out to be one of the best documentaries of the year, Rick McKay's "Broadway: The Golden Age, By the Legends Who Were There" is a must-see if you adore theater, New York, and actors. More than 100 stars get to let loose on the Great White Way including Shirley MacLaine, Carol Burnett, Jeremy Irons, Mimi Hines, Alec Baldwin, Edie Adams, Martin Landau, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, and Wendy Wasserstein. This film was absolutely stirring, and other festgoers liked it as much as I did, awarding it the documentary audience favorite award.
Among the features, three were especially of note. "The Annihilation of Fish," Charles Burnett's chronicle of crazies in love, stars James Earl Jones, Lynn Redgrave (who claimed the fest's best actress award), and Margot Kidder. This might just become a cult film for midnight romantics. Amy Hobby, the producer of "Secretary" and "Nadja," makes a fine directorial debut with "Coney Island Baby," a romantic comedy about the working class in Ireland. Winning performances and daffy incidents make this one a pleaser. Finally, there's Peter Callahan's "Last Ball," a semi-autobiographical drama about a high school grad who drives a taxi in a small New York town. All his friends are leaving him behind to fulfill their dreams, but Jim has no dream. Charlie Hofheimer gives a charismatic performance as a guy with little charisma or purpose. "Last Ball" is definitely a great calling card for all involved.
As for the festival itself, Callahan shared: "They invited me down to show 'Last Ball,' and I'm happy to show it anywhere. It's basically keeping the film out there...getting it out there. You never know what's going to happen or who's going to see it."
[For a full list of winners from Palm Beach, visit www.pbifilmfest.org ]