Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Palm Beach Film Festival Diaries
Day 1 (part 2): Drinks and Speeches

by Liza Bear

I'm introduced to festival director Mark Diamond, who selected the films (50, from 25 countries) and operations director Susan Frayne, responsible for logistics and the civilized timetable. (Screenings here begin at noon). Two first-rate films the Japanese "Shall We Dance?" and the French "When the Cat's Away," which I saw at Sundance, are in the selection.

Although the Palm Beach Film Festival is only in its second year, the Boston husband and wife team, who also run film festivals in Boston and Palm Springs, are practised hands. Last year the festival was apparently in the black and this year has been expanded from 7 to 10 days to include two week-ends. Two week-ends and two locations.

Reporters always ask: why the travel time? Palm Beach County being the size of Rhode Island means the other theatre has to be near the county line in Boca Raton, a 40-minute drive on the interstate.

With the drinks come speeches and aspirations. County Commissioner Burt Aaronsson, a large, white-haired man formerly in furniture marketing whose brainchild this is, explains his dream of building up the motion picture industry - "a clean industry" - in southern Florida.

"It's very difficult to get motion pictures made in Florida," Aaronson says when I ask him why he founded the Palm Beach festival. (There are already festivals in Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale). "Without crews, people won't come to shoot film. What better way than showing the world that Palm Beach is serious about having people shoot films here than a festival? After the first festival last year, a new studio, Ocean Studios, was built locally. It's now the second largest sound stage in the state of Florida."

A portion of the proceeds from the Festival, Aaronson says, goes to film education at the Palm Beach Community College and also to support a magnet program for "at risk" high school students which would ideally train them to become grips, gaffers, stagehands, wardrobe mistresses, and sound technicians.

"Believe it or not," Aaronson says, "I got the idea one day when I passed by graffiti on the wall and I thought, what great set designers these people could be."

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