Now in its 20th landmark year, the Palm Beach International Film Festival has amassed another eclectic showcase of features, docs, and shorts, from romantic comedies to art-house rambles, from wartime dramas to music videos and a student film showcase. The fest lasts just eight days — at theaters in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and Palm Beach Gardens — but they feel more jam-packed than ever. Here are ten reasons to become a festivalgoer during this hectic week (for the full schedule, visit pbifilmfest.org).
10. Bet you never thought you'd see Michael Clarke Duncan again, eh? The versatile, hefty character actor died in 2012 during postproduction of the horror film A Resurrection. Turns out he completed another film in 2012 that has sat on the shelf — until now. In The Challenger (6:30 p.m. March 28 at Muvico Parisian), he lends his infectious smile to the role of a legendary trainer who teaches a destitute young mechanic how to box and thus save his close-knit family from homelessness.
9. Seven shorts this year concern LGBT issues, and the festival has combined them into a single program titled "Pride Comes Out" (8:15 p.m. March 29 at Parisian). Hailing from U.S. and Germany, they include the provocative Camchat, about virtual chatting; Camouflage, in which unexpected intimacy finds its way into a military exercise; and Tom in America, in which secrets shake the foundation of a heterosexual marriage.
8. The festival will shine its projectors on the Jewish experience this year, with a handful of features and documentaries addressing aspects of the diaspora. None are more intriguing than director Ricardo Adler's The Lost Key (7 p.m. March 31 at Cinemark Palace), a documentary inspired by his own traumatic divorce — a soul-searching mission that led him to a rabbi who is also something of a sexologist. Under the Jewish Experience umbrella, you can also catch Bulgaria's 2015 Academy Awards submission, Bulgarian Rhapsody (1:45 p.m. March 29 at Palace), and Is That You? (4 p.m. March 28 at Palace), a top nominee in Israel's equivalent of the Academy Awards.
7. Not to be left out, local filmmakers will receive three separate spotlights, including the features Marriage Material and Pembroke Circle. But if you can catch only one, make it the "Shorts Program" (6 p.m. March 29 at Cobb Downtown at the Gardens), which includes Good Health Hunting, a reality-TV pilot from a Palm Beach County doctor that focuses on his wackiest patients; and a hilarious "swede" version of Robocop.
6. When Current TV aired its final episode of Viewpoint, in 2013, John Fugelsang became one of the most talented jobless Americans in the country. So what does a witty, dynamic storyteller and political commentator do when nobody is paying him to tell stories and comment? Apparently, travel the world in search of the American dream. That's the premise behind Dream On (3:30 p.m. March 28 at Palace), in which Fugelsang plays Virgil across the East Coast and heartland of the United States, retracing the route trekked by Alexis de Tocqueville for his famous 19th-century book Democracy in America.
5. Working hard to ferret out the best of world cinema, the PBIFF will screen titles from countries rarely represented in our multiplexes. These include Slovakia's In Silence (1:15 p.m. March 28 at Palace), a meditative study of the transformational power of music; the Netherlands' Soof (5:30 p.m. March 29 at Palace), an intimate relationship drama; and the Palestinian Territories' Villa Touma (4:30 p.m. March 31 at Palace), a chamber drama about Ramallah's withering aristocracy.
4. The spirit of the Coen Brothers and Twin Peaks hangs over the darkly comic police procedural Cut Bank (6:45 p.m. March 29 at Parisian), in which a restless young man and his girlfriend (Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer) witness a crime involving an important parcel and a supposedly murdered mailman. It's the first and only crime in the microscopically small town of Cut Bank, Montana, leaving the Podunk authorities way over their heads. The major draw here is the immaculate supporting cast: John Malkovich, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Dern, and Oliver Platt costar.
3. Even if you never heard Ellar Coltrane's name before last summer, if you saw Richard Linklater's Boyhood, you'll feel like you've grown up with him for the past 12 years. The film egregiously lost its Best Picture bid in February, but its star will at least earn a Shooting Star Award at a VIP party at 8 p.m. March 28, alongside fellow honorees Tom Arnold and Kate Walsh. Hosted at a private sanctuary estate, the $100 ticket gets you cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and live music.
2. The festival scored a star-studded knockout as its opening-night film. Welcome to Me is one of the most promising vehicles yet for Kristen Wiig, who receives another chance to flex the seriocomic muscles she exercised so successfully in last year's The Skeleton Twins. She plays a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins an $86 million lottery and proceeds to do what any unstable narcissist would: purchase her own network talk show. Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Joan Cusack join the stellar supporting cast under the direction of Shira Piven, a colleague of Will Ferrell's and Adam McKay's. Piven will introduce the film at 7 p.m. March 26 at Muvico Parisian 20 and will join attendees at an afterparty at nearby Revolution. The $75 ticket gets you two Perfect Vodka cocktails, appetizers, and VIP bowling.
1. For the past 20 years, writer-director Noah Baumbach has been one of America's wisest chroniclers of life's inequities, surprises, and floundering romances, from college graduation through a begrudging acceptance of middle age. That's why the opportunity to see Baumbach's newest feature, along with two of his classics, on the big screen is the number-one PBIFF attraction. Kicking and Screaming (5 p.m. March 31 at Cobb Downtown at the Gardens) is the essential '90s indie comedy about postcollege malaise; and The Squid and the Whale (5 p.m. April 1 at Cobb) is his semiautobiographical masterpiece about an urbane Brooklyn family navigating a parental separation. The festival closes with Baumbach's latest, While We're Young, with Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as an aging couple attempting to recapture their youth by befriending a pair of lively 20-somethings. It screens at 7 p.m. April 2 at Cinemark Palace 20, followed by a party at Yoko-San Fusion Restaurant in Mizner Park.