Rehoboth Film Festival in full swing; 100 films from 35 countries featured

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

Grab the popcorn and prepare to be wowed.

The 13th annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival began on Wednesday, Nov. 10 and lasts through Sunday, Nov. 14.

With close to 100 films, many of them independent, student, documentaries, shorts or foreign, it’s a chance to see movies that will never make it to the big screen at your neighborhood multiplex.

Each year, the film festival transforms the area into a combination university town and arthouse where theater goers can stretch their cinematic chops and feast on some of the most highly regarded movies of the year.

But it’s much more than five days of movies. It features a country spotlight highlighting one nation each year, a children’s cinema corner, seminars and discussions with filmmakers and celebrities, student film awards and a closing party.

“I knew the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival audiences were film fanatics,” said Festival Program Director Joe Bilancio. “But last year, you took it to a whole new level. Braving horrible weather . . . you were determined not to miss a film.”

The film festival has produced friendships, relationships and even weddings, said Film Society Executive Director Sue Early.  “This will be an event that will stay with you for a very long time . . . It brings films here that people would never have the opportunity to see.”

“We like to say we put the fest in festival,” said Bilancio. “We really do try to make sure there is something for everyone . . .We are always very, very excited and the community always embraces us.”

“The best part of the festival is the attitudes of the people who come (and our volunteers),” said Early. “People come with such enthusiasm and open minds.”

The festival has proven so popular that Early said the film society hopes to begin a mini-festival in the winter, perhaps in 2012.

Some festival movies, especially some of the more popular like Down Low, which features Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall, sell out quickly. But Early said that moviegoers should not be disappointed.

She said that tickets are always being returned because schedules change and people can’t attend a particular showing. So, it’s always best to check the big tent for any seats that may have opened up.

She also suggests that people have a second or third movie choice if they cannot get a ticket to see their first choice. “That may turn out to be your best experience,” she said.

Tickets are $9 and are available to both film society members and non-members (only on the day of the showing for non-members). Student, youth and senior tickets are $8. Ticket sales take place at the tent behind the Midway Shopping Center and movies are at the Movies at Midway in the Midway Shopping  Center.

Some of the films have a local connection, including “Mayor Cupcake” set in Bridgeville and Jimmy’s Grille and directed by Alex Pires. “The Last Resort” features a cast and director from Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and nearby areas and follows seasonal employees at the beach as they prepare for the end of the season.

Others run the gamut from a film called “Lebanon”, filmed almost entirely inside an Israeli tank to “Down Low”, which features Robert Duvall as a hermit who decides to have his funeral while he’s still living so he can find out what people say about him.

“Nora’s Will”, which won the Best Picture honors at the Mexican version of the Academy Awards, tells the story of an ex-husband and his Jewish ex-wife who live in adjoining apartments and spy on each other with binoculars. She commits suicide, in part, as a way of annoying her atheist ex-husband. “Determined to foil Nora, even in death, Jose mixes up the sticky notes on the Tupperware, orders sausage pizza for his Jewish family, insults the rabbi and places an order for a Catholic burial,” according to the film fest program.

“Sister Smile” tells the story of the “Singing Nun” who had a worldwide musical hit “Dominique” and her life in and out of the convent.  Documentary fans may be interested in “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.”

For more information or to download a program and schedule for this year’s film festival, go to the website rehobothfilm.com

This year’s country spotlight will be the film industry giant of India (last year’s spotlight was Japan). In addition to  films from India, there are also a variety of cultural activities available, including tea time, an Indian dance troop and temporary henna painting (traditionally used on Indian brides).

“Although countries may have cultural, religious and political differences, Country Spotlight reveals the universality of the human experience. . . The Indian films that make up the spotlight contain a balance of big blockbusters and powerful and sophisticated independent cinema, which is experiencing a surge in the type of films being made in the country,” according to the film festival program.

There are also a number of special seminars and discussions available during the festival’s five days. They include Screenwriting with Khris Baxter, From Script to  Screen and Beyond and A Conversation with Matthew Porterfield. Porterfield is known as a rising young director in the industry.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the late Lee Jones and the late Roslyn Fierberg.

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