Lights, Cameras, Lots Of Action Greet PB Film Festival Audiences

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By: Dale King Contributing Writer

Over the course of five fun-filled, film-filled days straddling March and April, the 22nd annual Palm Beach International Film Festival – held at Keiser University in West Palm Beach and at the Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton – offered a variety of live musical performances, art displays and special appearances by celebrities like Dr. Oz, Michael Lohan, Connie Francis and artist Laurence Gartel, among others.

Movie-goers were also treated to a vast array of films made up of dramas, documentaries and comedies.  Those who chose to visit the Boca location took part in opening and closing night parties at the nearby Tilted Kilt restaurant. The March 29 debut also coincided with a car show in the parking lot of the nearby dining spot.

Crowds of regular folk mingled with filmmakers, media and a host of sponsors.

On the final night, Palm Beach International Film Festival awards went to the following:

Best Biography, “Nana.”  Best Documentary, “My Hero Brother” and “Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices.” Best Fantasy, “The Sounding.” Best History, “Price for Freedom” and Best Romance, “Dina.”

Mackenzie Tammara, who performed several songs during the festival, dedicated a well-known tune to end the celebration the night of April 2: “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

Opening night in Boca featured an appearance by legendary singer Connie Francis, who received the second annual Florence “Flossy” Keesely award from artist/sculptor Yaacov Heller, in honor of her achievements in the field of music.  For the occasion, up-and-coming young artist Vanessa Simpson sang one of Connie’s best-known tunes, “Where the Boys Are.” That was the theme for the 1960 movie filmed in nearby Fort Lauderdale. Connie also starred in the film.

Cashbox, Billboard and the Jukebox Operators of America named Connie as the No. 1 female vocalist of that era. She was named Top Female Vocalist by all the trades for six consecutive years – a record never surpassed. As well, England’s prestigious New Musical Express also named her the world’s No. 1 Female Vocalist. She earned two gold records for “Who’s Sorry Now?” and “Stupid Cupid.”

The award is modeled after the statue at the Flossy Keesely Fountain in Mizner Park.  Heller created that figure and miniaturized it for presentation by the PBIFF.  Flossy was a longtime philanthropist and Boca Raton resident who promoted entertainment and song, particularly in her “Pathway to the Stars” shows from 2009 to 2013 at the Mizner Park Amphitheater. She passed away in 2016 at age 101.

Last year’s first annual presentation went to Yvonne Boice, former chair of the Palm Beach International Film Festival for 10 years.

First-day films shown at Cinemark included “Nana,” starring Alice Michalowski and Serena Dykman, who was also director. In it, the filmmaker retraced her grandmother’s Auschwitz survival story and investigated how her life-long fight against intolerance could be taught to the new generations. Serena was present for an after-film Q&A.

Also shown that afternoon was “My Hero Brother,” directed by Yonathan Nir. It told how a group of courageous children with Down syndrome embark on a trek through the Indian Himalayas, accompanied by their “normal” brothers and sisters.

The evening also included the unveiling of this year’s PBIFF poster created by Laurence Gartel, a globally recognized artist. He taught Andy Warhol how to use the Amiga Computer to create an album cover for Debbie Harry in 1985. The official artist for the 57th annual Grammy Awards in 2015, Gartel is also known for painting automobiles and turning them into works of art.

The evening film on opening night was “Despite the Falling Snow,” about a Communist (Rebecca Ferguson, who also starred in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” in 2015, in a dual role) who spies on a rising Soviet star, only to find herself falling in love with him.

Other productions aired at the festival included a special episode of “Tales of Light,” a documentary series produced by Abraham Joffee of Untitled Films, for National Geographic Australia.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, known to TV audiences simply as Dr. Oz, was on hand for the screening of his daughter, Arabella Oz’s, first movie, “When the Starlight Ends.” She took questions afterwards as her father watched from the audience.

Also, a movie called “The Business of Recovery,” was shown at the Cinemark. It was produced by Greg Horvath, and the Q&A afterward was moderated by Michael Lohan, father of actress Lindsey Lohan.