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Documentaries Lift Palm Beach FF

No matter the size of the Festival, and I am including the biggest ones of the bunch in this statement, the quality of the fiction features is generally a mixed bag, but the documentaries never disappoint. The same can be said for the Palm Beach International Film Festival, where this year's documentary lineup is of consistent quality, appealing to audiences of all stripes and tastes.

Social issues mix with personal concerns in the best of these films. In THE DAY AFTER PEACE, UK director Jeremy Gilley follows the film artist/activist's 10 year journey to establish a day devoted to peace on SepGotember 21st. He uses his own charisma and celebrity connections (including Angelina Jolie, Jude Law, Annie Lennox, the Dalai Lama) in a quest to galvanize international support for an official day of cease-fires and non-violence.

Also entertaining an international focus is THE INVOCATION, an exploration of the notion of the meaning of God and the goal of world peace, written, directed and produced by Emmanuel Itier. By speaking to religious, educational, political and artistic leaders (including Oliver Stone, Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama), Itier finds tthe common thread amongst people striving for a better world and a closer relationship with the eternal.

Relationships, both healthy and healing ones, are at the core of several of the best documentaries on tap. In DREAMRIDERS, filmmaker William S. Roulston takes viewers on an intimate cross-country journey as he attempts to bond with his estranged son on a 4000 mile bike ride across America. The duo have their conflicts, including accusations of abandonment and neglect, but their shared experience and the kindness of the people they meet on their journey, profoundly affect both men and allows for a reconciliation that is both moving and very real.

The healing of strained race relations in contemporary America is explored in PROM NIGHT MISSISSIPPI from writer/director Paul Saltzman. He directs his camera on the graduating class of Charleston High School, where a long held tradition of segregated white and black proms finally dies a long anticipated death, and an integrated affair becomes the rule of the day. Actor Morgan Freeman, who happens to live in the town, offers rueful commentary on the continued racial divides in America, and his own activist stance that has him paying for the newly intergrated prom with his own money.

The documentary section also features some indelible portraits of unique individuals who make an impact on our world. In VIVA MANDIBA: A HERO FOR ALL SEASONS, South African director Catherine Meyburgh, focuses her camera on Nelson Mandela, a true living legend whose courageous story ended two centuries of apartheid in his native country. Ecbeth Lucena, a survivor of concentration camps, decides to bring enlightenment to the world through his music and his organization of the Youth Orchestra of America. Music is also the theme of ROOTS OF REGGAE: THE ERNEST RANGLIN STORY, which tells the tale of one of the pioneers of reggae and ska music and his efforts to bring attention to the native cultures of the Caribbean to international audiences via his music. In GOTTA DANCE, a crowd pleasing film by Dori Bernstein, a group of senior citizen hip hop dancers who play at halftime for the New Jersey Nets are an inspiration for their audiences and a potent reminder that the barriers of aging are merely an illusion.

Political documentaries also fare strongly in the program, provoking debate and dialogue about some of today's most hot-button issues. In SEVERE CLEAR, director Kristian Fraga takes an unflinching look at life on the battlefield as seen through the eyes and the video camera of a Marine lieutenant on the front lines in the war in Iraq. In MY NAME IS ORPHAN by co-directors Gene Rumley and Trevor Brown, the camera focuses on the harsh living conditions of street kids in the slums of Mumbai and how a humanitarian organization is making a difference in the lives of these abandoned youngsters. In OUR DISSAPEARED, director Juan Mandelbaum delves into Argentina's murky history when thousands of political opponents just disappeared during the repressive regime of the 1970s. In THE CASE FOR ISRAEL, director Michael Vohay offers an impassioned and vigorous case for Israel's basic right to exist.

For more information on these documentaries and other films screening at the Festival, visit: www.pbifilmfest.org

Sandy Mandelberger, fest21.com Palm Beach Festival Dailies Editor

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