Live film festivals are back, and a new one, The Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Film Festival, makes its debut Jan. 26 with the opening night film, the U.S. premiere of the French comedy Two Tickets to Greece at the Kravis Center Cohen Pavilion.
Directed by Marc Fitoussi, who is scheduled to attend the screening, the film stars Laure Calamy, Olivia Côte and Kristin Scott-Thomas.
Presented by MorseLife, the festival runs through Feb. 16, offering dozens of international features, documentaries and short films from more than 20 countries.
“The festival will bring highly anticipated, critically acclaimed, and thought-provoking films to Palm Beach County,” says founder Donald M. Ephraim. “We look forward to featuring works of emerging and established filmmakers, a high-quality mix of independent films, documentaries and short films, offering something for every community and demographic.”
A number of films feature emerging women directors, such as Delray Beach-based Sasha Levinson (Sylvie of the Sunshine State); others appeal to LGBTQ+ audiences (No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics); and a number of Israeli- and Jewish-themed films will screen, such as Marvin Samel’s comedy iMordecai, starring Judd Hirsch and Carol Kane.
Films will show throughout the county, including at CMX at the Gardens, CMX Wellington, Movies of Lake Worth, Paragon at Delray Marketplace and the Regal Royal Palm Beach.
Highlights include “Dinner & a Movie” at the IPIC theater in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park on Jan/ 29-31, and at IPIC in Delray Beach, on Jan. 30, Feb. 6 and 13, all featuring a three-course dinner at your seat alongside a specially curated film for $56 per person.
The intent of the selected films is to encourage dialogue and interaction among attendees, says Ellen Wedner, festival director and a veteran of running local film festivals. “Our goal is to foster collaboration with community partners, diverse populations and student filmmakers,” she said.
In the future, festival organizers plan to expand the event in response to feedback from the audience as well as film industry insiders, Wedner said.
Documentaries feature prominently in the festival and include Bryan Darling’s All Man: The International Male Story, a look back at the mail-order catalog’s impact on fashion, masculinity and gay rights; Eric Hamburg’s Darryl Jones: In The Blood, the story of Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones, who replaced Bill Wyman; Geeta Gandbhir’s Lowndes County and the Road To Black Power, a historical account of the road to voting rights and black empowerment in rural Alabama in the early 1960s; and Louie Psihoyo’s Mission Joy: Finding Happiness in Troubled Times, an exploration of the friendship between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
South Florida is represented with Levinson’s Sylvie in the Sunshine State, a family story set during the COVID-19 pandemic and Calendar Girls, a documentary shot by Swedish husband and wife team, Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen, following a group of retired women from the Fort Myers area over a four-year period who have a passion for dance and use it to raise money for charity.
The Calendar Girls Song and Dance Team, founded in 2005 by Katherine Shortlidge, 71, a former teacher and Division I basketball player for Penn State, this “coming-of-golden-age” film follows 36 senior volunteer dancers ages, 55-82, in who don’t let their age hold them back.
Dressed in full make-up and handmade costumes, the dancers give it everything they’ve got, performing in 150 shows a year all over Southwest Florida.
With a motto of “Maturity in Motion,” the dance team raises money for Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, a charity that trains puppies and places them with children and veterans with impaired vision.
The film, which tells the story of four of the women, virtually world-premiered at Sundance in January and premiered at the Fort Myers Film Festival in May.
“We only realized this was something big when the film got accepted to Sundance,” says Shortlidge.
“Maria and Love shot a lot of footage, but we didn’t know how it would all come together,” she says. “The film has changed all our lives. When it screened in Fort Myers, all the husbands and community came out. They were so proud of us.
“It was great to see our families beaming at us,” she says. “Without their support it would be hard to do.”
The women have bonded, despite occasional “drama,” and will appear and perform live at Movies of Lake Worth on Jan. 28 after the screening.
Over the years the Calendar Girls have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the organization, says Shortlidge.
“It’s a feather in our cap to perform and raise money for Southeastern Guide Dogs,” Shortlidge says.
“When you swap sweat, it bonds you for life,” says the former athlete. “You don’t have to be best friends but you have to work together as a team. We’re different shapes and sizes, have different political and religious beliefs, but our love of dance unites us.”
They have recently submitted a tape to America’s Got Talent and have hopes they may be selected to appear on an upcoming season of the show.
“We’re excited to come and perform at the Palm Beach Film Festival and honored to be featured in this film,” says Shortlidge, who has a bit of a reputation as a drill sergeant. “In addition to our volunteerism and fundraising, this will always be a part of our legacy.”
In addition to the eight documentaries, the festival will screen more than 29 feature films, including the closing night film, Jonathan Keijser’s 2021 feature film from Canada, Peace By Chocolate, a heartwarming tale about Syrian refugees forging a new life in Canada.
For a full list of participating theaters and scheduled movies at the upcoming Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Film Festival, request a DMEPBFF brochure, or to become a member of the Festival Film Society, please call 561-867-3109 or visit DMEPBFF.org.