The 2015 Palm Beach International Film Festival opened up with a loud and reverberating bang, displaying a showcase of feature films, shorts, documentaries, and student films that are surely guaranteed to draw in large crowds of avid cinephiles and film festival lovers.
Art Film File was at the opening of the Festival, where after the arrival of filmmakers and actors on the red carpet, the premiere of Welcome To Me Kristen Wigg’s new film directed by Shira Piven delivered a combination of humor and emotional appeal. Wigg plays an obsessed Oprah fan suffering from borderline personality disorder, who after winning $86.000.000 in a lottery draw, hires the professional team of an infomercial studio with the purpose of culminating the utmost fantasy of her troubled mind: a talk show of her own, with two hour weekly episodes where the daily topic will be….herself. In the Q&A that followed the premiere, director Shira Piven admitted that her aunt suffered from a form of mental illness, and that a great part of the reason behind the film was to raise awareness about the topic, using humor as a venue for empathy.
Any Day is also a film that entices an utmost appeal for compassion. Directed by Rustam Branaman, Any Day is the story of Vian, a former boxer who after being accused of manslaughter and sent to serve a twelve year prison sentence, is released to a life of uncertainty but also familial bonding in the form of his sister and his eight year old nephew Jimmy who offers him a unique opportunity of redemption. Starring Sean Bean, Kate Walsh, Eva Longoria and Tom Arnold as Roland, a former alcoholic who gives Vian a job in the pizza parlor he manages, while trying to cement a friendship and be a mentor to a difficult ex-con. Rustam Branaman commented of the film: “I believe in the power of transformation, and this film shows that”.
Note: Tom Arnold was given the showmanship award as recognition for a prolific and versatile career in a lavish Disco Dance Party held at The Sanctuary, the house of Joyce and Marty Kobak in Boca Raton, which also celebrated the twenty years of PBIFF, as well as the emerging film career of Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane.
Some of the local films promise to be festival darlings. Such is the case of Hidden Assets, which played at the Cobb Movie Theater in Palm Beach Gardens. Shot in South Florida, accompanied by a local cast and crew, Hidden Assets was directed, written, and starred by renown producer and actress Jacqueline Journey who delivers a brilliant performance as Eva Town, a determined woman who after having her hard-earned fortune a stolen by a husband that betrays her with a younger woman, seeks the help of burned out P.I. Grady as part of a well-orchestrated plan to recover what was taken from her. A thriller merged with elements of neo-noir, Hidden Assets will no doubt keep audiences wondering what truth hides behind Eva Town’s flawless façade.
Art Film File had the opportunity to talk to Journey about Hidden Assets, performing multiple roles on a film and working with a limited budget. “It took a lot of work to get this film done” Journey stated. “Unexpected things happened on the set. One night, when we were shooting the scene in the warehouse, we heard shots. We saw figures running by, and then police officers chasing after them. One of them stopped to ask the actor who plays Grady if he was hurt. He had completely forgotten that he had the fake wound from the scene we were shooting, and he told the police officer that everything was fine, and that we were making a movie. The guy just looked at him and said: “get inside”, and took off. So that was a weird experience”. Regarding the budget for the film, Journey confirmed that it wasn’t easy to obtain the funding and that even when it was secured it was an effort to make a film with a small budget. But her belief in the project, in addition to the hard work of the cast and crew, was surely a light at the end of the tunnel. The hard work unquestionably paid off, since the film was screened twice this week to a sold-out crowd.
Films from as far as Israel form part of the festival’s programming, and a prominent example is 10% My Child, directed by Uri Bar-on and starring Udi Persi and Yeli Friedman, tells the story of Nico, a man in his twenties who falls in love with seven year old Franny’s mother, and must now win over the little girl’s heart before they stand a chance of being a family.
Lead actor Udi Persi spoke about the film, and the difficulty of having a seven-year old co-star: “It isn’t easy in Israel making films with child actors. They cannot work during the school year, and no more than six hours a day. And Yeli (Franny) is in the end a child. Sometimes we had to convince her to work and that we would have fun the next day. One time, she called me early in the morning to tell me that I had promised to take her out to the park when I was trying to convince her to do a scene. I had forgotten about it, but she didn’t”. Funding was also a challenge, Persi said. “In Israel it is very difficult to get funding for films, and it was hard for us to get it”.
Limited budgets, as problematic as they might be, grant filmmakers and performers a certain amount of artistic and creative freedom, which might otherwise be denied to them in mainstream big budget productions. Such freedom is portrayed in Natural Insemination, a short film written and directed by Crosby Selander, and starring Eric Price and Jenny Flack as David and Heather, a couple who strive to get pregnant by any means possible, and who resort to desperate measures when they discover that David is sterile.
Director Crosby Selander stated that the idea for the film had begun with an article he had read about what couples go through in order to have a baby. “It’s crazy” Selander said. “People do all these things and invest huge amounts of money to have a baby. I thought that this story would make a great film”. When Art Film File asked him if his double role as director and writer was difficult, Crosby joked “I can say that editors don’t usually like me. I’m a perfectionist and that doesn’t make me very popular”.
As baby-crazed couples take the screen in Natural Insemination, another short film portrays the challenges of a Japanese-American mother imprisoned in the Manzanar Concentration Camp, an internment site located northeast of Los Angeles, California where she is forced to abandon her home, her traditions, and her culture to protect herself and her children. Based on a true story, director and producer Kazuko Golden presents A Song For Manzanar as part of the “I Am Woman” showcase, which attempts to empower films that are by women and about women.
“I remember that my grandmother wouldn’t talk about it” Golden told Art Film File. “When I went there to shoot, even though it’s all abandoned now, it was strange. You can still feel things there”. A recent press release revealed that A Song For Manzanar was recently selected to form part of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival under the Short Film Corner. This is no doubt a tremendous achievement not only for Golden, but also for the thousands of Japanese -American citizens who were unjustly imprisoned in Manzanar during World War II.
LGBT films are also strongly represented in the “Pride Comes Out” showcase with films like Tom In America, Between The Sun And Me, Camouflage and many others. Art Film File had the chance to talk to director, writer, and producer Shawn Ryan, who was a guest star in the hit television series Bones, and is now also the star of his own film, Charlie which reflects the story of a young man who enters a state of hysteric mutism as a way to flee a past filled with the horrors of abuse.
Ryan stated that this film had been a labor of love for him as well as for the rest of the cast and crew, due to a very limited budget and time restrictions to get the film done. “When I was little, I sometimes stopped talking. Not because of abuse or anything like that but because I was sometimes being a brat to my parents. I thought that a story of someone that becomes mute as a consequence of constant abuse, would be something worth telling”.
The festival is not lacking in documentaries that are certain to provoke thought and in many cases, compassion for individuals who unwillingly find themselves on the outer edge of society. Shunned is one of these stories in which director Janice Villarosa tells the heartfelt story of transgender women in the Philippines and the humiliation that they are many times submitted to by men. “It was really hard to make this film because getting the women to talk to me was a challenge” Villarosa confessed to Art Film File. “But I thought it was important to get their story out there and let people know what difficult lives these women have in terms of being thought of as lesser individuals”.
Additionally, Villarosa financed the film herself, which makes this project particularly endearing to her. “I paid for everything out of pocket” she stated. “But for me it was really important to get this film made, so I decided to go ahead with it. And I am really happy with how it turned out”. Shunned has been well received in many festivals across the country, which is an indication of the film’s achievement in arousing the interest of the public regarding the difficult journey that transgender women have to go through in order to find their identity.
The Lost Key is another thought provoking documentary by Venezuelan director Ricardo Adler, who after a traumatic divorce, set out to find real answers on what it truly takes to achieve a long and happy marriage, and eventually comes across the ancient practice of Kabbalah. The documentary follows Ricardo’s journey to achieve marital bliss while also gathering the testimony of other couples, also searching for a long-lasting physical and spiritual connection in their marriage.
Documentaries embrace a wide spectrum of topics, which is why Swank Farm is part of the documentaries showcase in this year’s PBIFF. The doc, written and directed by Judith Olney, and produced by her son Nathan Olney uncovers the real life struggle of the Swank family, who after losing everything in the economic recession, had to start anew as hydroponic farmers in the Loxahatchee Groves area of Palm Beach County and the challenges that they face in their daily lives. Olney admitted that shadowing a family for a year was a challenge in itself. “It wasn’t easy filming inside a limited physical space” she admitted “but it was a great experience to be with this family and tell their story”.
A rare and unique showcase of features, shorts, and documentaries in addition to student and local voices films, completes the lineup of the 2015 Palm Beach County Film Festival, which is surely a one of a kind experience for anyone avid to witness extraordinary stories told through the always hypnotizing magic of film.