Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Delray film festival alive and kicking in fourth year

Jeff Daniels and Lou Taylor Pucci in The Answer Man.

By Hap Erstein

Movie attendance traditionally does well in hard economic times, but that does not mean it is easy to put on a film festival during a recession. Nevertheless, with minimal staff and reduced corporate sponsorship, here comes the 4th annual Delray Beach Film Festival, opening today and continuing through Sunday, May 24.

As has been the case from the event’s beginnings, Delray veterinarian Michael Posner is the driving force behind the festival and its prime underwriter. Not having the festival this year was never a consideration, he insists.

“No, I said even if I did it in my house, we’d have it,” notes Posner, whose e-mail moniker is “maddoc.” “It’s again one of those smoke-and-mirrors deals of putting this together. I still have certain filmmakers that I’m going to fly in. On my credit card.”

Posner has long had strong contacts with the independent film industry, having worked as a volunteer at the Sundance and Newport Film Festivals. This year, he feels his festival has turned a corner of recognition, with distributors such as Magnolia coming to him and offering such films as The Answer Man, a Jeff Daniels-Lauren Graham vehicle that will be the opening night feature, and Food Inc., a documentary on corporate corruption of food marketing that should keep down the eating at post-screening parties.

But Posner has been less successful building up the festival’s sponsorships. “Some of the sponsors that previously gave us cash have either disappeared or cut back 75 percent of what they gave in the past,” he reports. “The city (of Delray Beach) again this year gave us nothing. The county, compared to someone else’s festival” -- he doesn’t even like to say the name Palm Beach International Film Festival -- “gave us one-tenth of what they gave them.”

The Delray Beach fest does have some sponsors donating product -- such as Perfect Vodka -- “so people will walk around with a smile on their face,” says Posner. And if you’d prefer to watch movies awake and sober, you can drink free coffee, thanks to Starbucks.

This festival knows the importance of parties, but its emphasis is on movies. Asked to name some of his favorites from this year’s crop, Posner mentions:

* The Only Good Indian: A feature about the government’s scheme to abduct Native American children and send them to “white man’s school,” to teach them how to fit into white culture.

* War Against the Weak: A documentary on eugenics, detailing how such captains of industry as Rockefeller, Harriman and Carnegie supported sterilizing those determined to be mentally ill, to prevent them from passing the illness on.

* The Magistical: A computer-animated feature that Posner calls “Pixar quality.” A fantasy tale about a plot to rid the world of dragons, except for one which would gain added powers if he were the only member of the species left.

* Lost in the Fog: A true story of a San Francisco race horse who kept winning and was thought to be potentially one of the sport’s greats, until he begins to stumble and tests find he has a 100-pound tumor inside him.

* Falling for Grace: An offbeat romantic comedy fueled by mistaken identity, about an ambitious Chinese-American woman who tries to break in with the society swells, so she does not correct them when they jump to the conclusion that she is a wealthy clothing designer.

A month before the festival, Posner announced that he would hold down the number of films to be screened to 200 -- 120 shorts and 80 features. “Yeah, that’s still a lot, but I think it’s also a manageable size,” he said at the time. A check of the festival’s Website this week shows that the number has crept up to 278.

Back again this year is the popular Script-to-Reel Contest, in which teams of filmmakers shoot movies during the festival, using the same screenplay outline and putting their own spin on the plot. This year, in a salute to the rotten economy, the film revolves around a widow who has all her money invested with Bernard Madoff, is forced to go back to work, and gets a job with an escort service which -- uh-oh -- her son’s friends call up to make his 21st birthday memorable.

According to Posner, the contestants will include a team from Los Angeles, an Asian filmmaker and a Miami woman who will be shooting her movie in Spanish.

Venues for this year’s screenings are the Movies of Delray (West Atlantic and Hagen Ranch Road), the Crest Theater (Swinton and Atlantic) and the Delray Beach Public Library (100 W. Atlantic). For more information and tickets, call (877) 733-3032.

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