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By Alan Scherstuhl
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The 11th-annual Palm Beach International Film Festival is upon us, and it's even Palm Beachier than ever, with the Donald in town to kick off the eight-day event's opening-night gala.
On the slate are 125 films, including 18 world premieres, beginning with Rain, about a gifted African-American girl who leaves the ghetto to live with wealthy white relatives, and ending on April 27 with Keeping Up With the Steins, about families mixing it up at an oversized bar mitzvah. Celebrities and filmmakers will, of course, be on hand, including Faye Dunaway, Dennis Hopper, and Doris "Everybody Loves Raymond" Roberts.
Over the past decade, PBIFF's philanthropic side has commendably raised more than a million dollars for South Florida education efforts. However, the insertion of Trump brings about a higher-level question of disparity between what the festival represents to the upper crust of Palm Beach and to real moviegoers looking for alternative and stirring film experiences.
Does it matter that a major Hollywood production company, Mandalay Integrated Media Entertainment, has taken over the film festival's operations to raise its profile? In an attempt to group films into a supposedly edgy category, it has created "Urban Day" for April 21. Movies selected for that special occasion include documentaries about basketball, tennis legend Arthur Ashe, and musician Oscar Brown Jr. as well as features about a black man accused of the brutal murder in North Carolina of a white woman, and a college-based scare flick produced by African-Americans.
Somehow, Between the Bridges, a documentary about New York City artists fighting gentrification in Brooklyn, didn't make the "urban" cut, and it doesn't take Cornel West to realize that the one-day grouping could actually be called "Black Day," with its pooling of films like inner-city youth gathered for a photo op with slumming Jaycees.
Does it matter that Trump's gala is at his exclusive Mar-A-Lago Club? In one news release, Trump proclaims: "Palm Beach is one of the great destinations in the world and the perfect location for a celebration of film that is second to none."
Yikes. It's the beginning of an episode of The Apprentice. Further press missives chirped the festival's intentions to someday reach top 10 status among the world's independent festivals, whatever that means, with festival Executive Director Randi Emerman noting, "To put it quite simply, we want PBIFF to be the Cannes of North America." It all feels like one of the tasks faced by frisky apprentice wannabes. Your challenge: to transform PBIFF into Cannes and sell tickets for Urban Day.The losers will meet in the boardroom.
Look past the red carpet, though, and you'll find celluloid discoveries unafraid to get really down and dirty, including features and documentaries about Fallujah (Caught in the Crossfire), war and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia (The Way We Played) and Kosovo (Kosova), Colombian revolutionaries (The Killing Room), and the modern global slave trade (Sex Slaves).
The festival will also bring the world premiere of 10th & Wolf, written and directed by Robert Moresco, fresh from winning an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay of Crash. Giovanni Ribisi, James Marsden, and Brad Renfro star as Mafia kids in 1991 Philadelphia. After Marsden joins the Marines, goes to Operation Desert Storm, and gets arrested in Kuwait City, he faces court-martial and a lot of self-examination about the influences that made him who he is. The film also stars Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Piper Perabo, and Tommy Lee.
10th & Wolf, though, isn't really a gangster film or a war movie, Maresco told us by phone. "It's not a political movie," he says. "It's about questioning what you're told, no matter who it is telling it to you." The boys of Maresco's film, whether manipulated by their crime families or the military-industrial complex, face what he telegraphs as crucial consideration for everyone: "What if these people were lied to all their lives by their fathers? Maybe we're all being given wrong information."
When it comes to examination of race, as only quirky film festival movies can, Urban Day also missed Neo Ned, in which an Aryan kid falls in love with an African-American girl who thinks she's the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. For director Van Fischer, that synopsis has definitely not made the film a dream assignment for Hollywood marketers. "But people need to look past the way we describe it," Fischer says. "It's not about Hitler youth but about people finding love. I'm approached afterwards by people about how they identify with Ned, how there's a Ned in their hometown. He's just a lonely person who wants a family."
Earlier this month, Neo Ned won Audience Selection awards at both the Sarasota and Ashland film festivals. Both cities asked Fischer to bring the movie back for upcoming symposia and high school activities focusing on racism, which he said surprised him, although the requests have made him contemplate, "What if this film could really take off and dispel some of the superficial racism out there?"
Most films will be screened at Mizner Sunrise Cinemas (301 Plaza Real, Boca Raton) and the Muvico Parisian 20 at CityPlace (545 Hibiscus St., West Palm Beach). For a full schedule of films and locations, visit www.pbifilmfest.org or call 561-362-0003.
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