Review: Palm Beach International Film Festival

by | Apr 24, 2016 | Art + Culture, Features

(Courtesy of Jake Mazzone/TransMedia Group)


On the night of April 14, the curtain was drawn on the 21st Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival after an awards ceremony, one final screening, and a wrap up party. Nine days of networking as filmmakers from around the world built friendships and creative partnerships. Nine days of meet and greets and parties. And nine days of some of the best indie films the movie industry has to offer. According to the festival’s Chairman and President Jeff Davis, the number of submissions AND attendees tripled this year.


The festival screened 172 films over the nine-day period and featured 16 World Premieres. The festival opened at Muvico Parisian at City Place on Wednesday, April 6, complete with a red carpet World Premiere of the film Money followed by an on-site party.  The opening night film had an unprecedented number of attendees that packed not one, but two theaters!

Tony Robbins talks with Jeff Davis.

Tony Robbins and Jeff Davis at PBIFF. (Image courtesy of TransMedia Group)

Throughout the event, films were playing in four county venues: The Palm Beaches Theatre, Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton, G-Star Studios in West Palm Beach, and Muvico Palace in downtown. Unfortunately, the absence of a North County venue disappointed me, but event organizers hope to include a theater in or near Jupiter next year.


The mission of The Palm Beach International Film Festival was originally to support local student filmmakers. This year G-Star School of the Arts, a local  public charter high school, partnered with festival organizers and had quite the showing at the PBIFF student showcase that took place in March. Among the awards given to G-Star students was the coveted top filmmaker prize, The Burt Reynolds Scholarship Award, which went to G-Star Student Jonathan Lockhart, Jr.


Palm Beach County resident and producer Amy Byer Shainman had two films in the Documentary Feature Competition: Pink & Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer which gives a very personal look at women and men dealing with the genetic mutations BRCA 1 and 2, and, on a much lighter note, The Two Dollar Bill Documentary which explores the interesting and often fun history behind this unique piece of American currency.

(BM) Patricia Sims (TransMedia)-min

Patricia Sims, writer and director of When Elephants Were Young (Image courtesy of TransMedia Group)

Highlights of the festival included the International and US Premiere of When Elephants Were Young which won the festival’s award for Best Documentary.  The film, co-written and directed by World Elephant Day founder, Patricia Sims, won the hearts of the audiences as it chronicled the life of one captive Asian Elephant in Thailand and her owner as it shed light on the centuries long tradition of keeping elephants, the reasons behind the practice, and the consequences to the elephants, the people of Thailand, and the country’s forest. When Elephants Were Young will be released in theaters on World Elephant Day which is August 12.


Another highlight was the much anticipated World Premiere of  the comedy, The Wedding Invitation. Written and directed by Rainy Kerwin, this film centers around three single women subjecting themselves to humiliation and heartache as they try to find their “plus one” to the wedding of the year.  This film was met with very positive responses from the audiences and proved to be the most fun film of the festival.  The Wedding Invitation opens in theaters in February 2017.


Other event highlights included the centerpiece screening of The Adderall Diaries starring James Franco and Christian Slater, the appearance of Tony Robbins at the screening of the documentary film, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, and the attendance of Marco Rubio at the screening of his nephew’s short film, Lionheart.

G-Star founder Greg Hauptner with Senator Marco Rubio at the screening of the short film Lionheart. (Photo courtesy of G-Star School of the Arts)

G-Star founder Greg Hauptner with Senator Marco Rubio at the screening of the short film Lionheart. (Photo courtesy of G-Star School of the Arts)

Personal favorites included the horror submission The Phoenix Incident written and directed by Keith Arem. Two years in the making and Arem’s first feature film, The Phoenix Incident is based on actual events centered around the military and government cover-ups regarding the unsolved missing persons case of four hikers in Phoenix the night of witnessed alien activity.  It contains found footage along with fictionalized interpretations of the events and made for an exhilarating sci-fi thriller. The Phoenix Incident will be shown in select theaters and is currently available via Video on Demand.


Australian filmmaker, James Raue, having received much recognition at other festivals for his dark comedy Psychoanalysis, was also on site for his screenings. In this documentary style fiction, Raue portrays the “most absurd yet tragic” character imaginable.  Another emerging filmmaker in attendance was American director Ali Askari. After the World Premiere of his first feature film, Falling, Askari, talked about how the inspiration for the story came from his own experiences in love and how director John Hughes influenced the film’s ending.


Lastly, as a testament to what film festivals and indie films are all about, American filmmaker Hunter Lee Hughes, in his directorial debut, uses poetry to tell the story of a young boy’s coping mechanism for dealing with an abusive parent in his neo-noir poetry drama, Guys Reading Poems.  Inspired by Hughes’ grandmother’s poetry collection, Guys Reading Poems is an artsy film that demonstrates risk-taking and innovation in filmmaking.

(BM) Larry Richman Exec Dir PBIFF-min

PBIFF Executive Director Larry Richman talks to the media at PBIFF. (Image by Nikki McBride)

Other festival winners included The House at the End of Time from Venezuelan director Alejandro Hidalgo which won the festival’s first ever horror competition, Randy which took home the Jury Award for Best Short film for American director Shawn Ryan, and winning the top Jury Award for Best Feature Film was Po directed by American director John Asher.


Kerwin, Hanna, Tirana

Director Rainy Kerwin (right) with producer/co-star Narmar Hanna (left) and co-star Chris Triana at the World Premiere of The Wedding Invitation at Cinemark Palace Boca Raton. Hanna and Tirana are both South FL natives. (Photo by Nikki McBride)

Overall, The Palm Beach International Film Festival is a local event not to be missed. There are films for fans of all genres. The only logistical problem I experienced, and heard other attendees complain about, was the inconvenience of the venues being so spread out making it challenging to hop from one location to another, restricting the number of films that can be viewed on any particular day. However, the schedule seemed to run very smoothly with little to no technical difficulties or delays. I would have liked a bit more time for Q&A at the end of each film, but the tight schedule is understandable with so many films to screen.

I am already looking forward to next year’s edition of the festival. Event organizers are expecting it to be even bigger in 2017 and anticipate drawing even more celebrities. For festival news visit

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    By: Nikki McBride

    Nikki is a writer who focuses mainly on issues facing parents and midlife women. She is also a film and book critic and active blogger. Her professional background spans several fields including law, event management and public relations, and elementary education. She is a long-time resident of South Florida. Read more of her articles and reviews at

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