How a Small Group of Disgraced Film Makers Tried to Take Down The Palm Beach International Film Festival

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By Chris Kline May 7, 2023

It was April 2023 and the all volunteer team at PBIFF were excited about the 2023 comeback festival. It was something many of them had been working on for over a year. Then, some bad news. Regal Corporate told them that what they were backing out last minute and were unwilling to negotiate. Despite having offers from a number of other venues, PBIFF wanted to be able to provide all of the screenings in one location to avoid movie goers and film makers from having to travel around the Palm Beaches. They settled on the closest theater to the Palm Beaches which was a Regal theater in Royal Palm Beach. At the very last minute, Regal decided they didn’t want to host PBIFF and was unwilling to even negotiate. According to Gary Bergland, a volunteer who said he was part of the team set up to secure a location, dealing with Regal was tedious. The representative at Regal would go weeks without responding to emails or phone messages. At the last minute, Regal presented a contract that did not reflect what had been negotiated. Regal was unwilling to negotiate and by time the Board was made aware of the changes and okayed them in less than 20 hours, Regal had already decided they were not going to host PBIFF 2023 and were unwilling to even discuss negotiations.

What Does a Film Festival Do When Their Venue Pulls The Plug?

According to a number of volunteers, with circumstances stacked against them, the board and volunteers had a meeting. The questions was posed, “what is it you (the PBIFF volunteers) want to do?” “Do you want to just throw in the towel and admit defeat?” The option was even offered to walk away completely. Volunteers immediately spoke up and started offering suggestions for solutions. According to volunteer Elizabeth Pierce, “not one person on the call and in the meeting was willing to give up or walk away.” “Every volunteer wanted to do anything at all that could be done to salvage PBIFF 2023”.

Having settled on the Regal as their only screening venue and then having that ripped away from them and with the event date quickly closing in, volunteers immediately informed film makers, started seeking out replacement venues and setting up streaming options. Volunteer Terry Seltzer explained how “volunteers worked around the clock for over a week setting up new venues and notifying ticket holders and film makers of new screening venues as soon as they could lock them in.” Screenings occurred in commercial theaters, art theaters, school auditoriums, hotel meeting rooms and wherever volunteers could secure screen space. Volunteers scurried between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach Gardens getting films to the replacement screening venues.

Trying to Save The Festival

With the board and volunteers rallying to try and save the festival, volunteers Kevin Mills and Jeffrey Habay began reaching out to film makers and started planning last minute, impromptu get togethers to replace events that had been scheduled for Regal so that film makers could meet, network and make the best of a changing situation.

Terry Selzer explained that “most of the film makers were understanding and even very supportive.” “Many of them jumped right in and asked us, what can we do to help?”. Seltzer then went on to say, “unfortunately, there was a small group of film makers, maybe 6 or 7, who before the festival had even begun, were making threats to volunteers and the festival as a whole and spreading un-truths about the festival, the situation and even the volunteers.” According to many of the volunteers, these film makers were immediately disqualified for their conduct, yet these disqualified and disgraced film makers chose to show up at PBIFF 2023 to wreak as much havoc and destruction as possible.

Volunteer Chris Davis explained how he personally had many conversations with these disqualified film makers through social media, emails and phone calls. He recounted these conversations and even provided a number of emails and social media posts that he’d screen captured that contained threats against individuals and the festival in general. Davis stated that there had even been some instances of violence just three days into the event. According to Davis, a handful of the disqualified film makers had gotten into threatening verbal altercations with film festival volunteers and other film makers that had stood up to them. Davis states that a number of these verbal altercations escalated with disqualified film makers pushing and shoving festival volunteers and other film makers.

With threats of more violence, the PBIFF board of directors made the difficult decision on Sunday night, April 23rd to shut down the already scheduled in person events for fear of more altercations from the band of disqualified film makers who had by then organized together in an effort to cause as much damage as possible at PBIFF 2023.

Social Media and a Plan For Destruction

According to Davis, a number of disqualified film makers attended a meet and great event organized at the last minute for film makers on the first night of the festival, something which was unknown at the time to festival volunteers. At this event attended by a number of the disqualified film makers, the disgruntled, disqualified film makers started with name calling, threats and created a social media thread which they used to communicate and plan their disruptions. Davis said he later found out that a number of these disgruntled film makers ran up food and drink tabs and left without paying their bill.

Disqualified and Disgraced

Disqualified and disgraced, these disgruntled film makers decided that they would capitalize on the last minute venue changes and confusion to try and take down the film festival that had disqualified them for their unprofessional, threatening and even criminal conduct.

Before they even boarded their planes to come to the Palm Beaches, they were already engaged in a campaign to smear the Palm Beach International Film Festival and the volunteers that had worked for over a year to make PBIFF 2023 a reality. They contacted the local film commission and other government entities to lodge false complaints. They concocted fake stories and peddled them off to the local press as fact. They contacted anyone and everyone who would listen to their lies. Some of the local press ran with the fake stories without ever speaking with anyone at PBIFF while others outlets were able to see through the fake accusations and the lies and refused to get caught up in the fake drama.

Though these rogue film makers did all they could to try and destroy PBIFF, some are still trying. The new board of directors and volunteers at PBIFF have vowed that PBIFF will be back in 2024. They have the support of other many other film makers, cinephiles and the general public. According to Christy Rosenthal, “as difficult as all of this was for PBIFF and our film makers, it has shown us how much good there is in the film maker community and our Palm Beaches community” Rosenthal says that during the festival as volunteers were doing all they could to find replacement venues and entertain film makers, we got a lot of notice and positive exposure. A number of new sponsors and donors have stepped up and expressed an interest in partnering with PBIFF. Many others have already stepped up to condemn the false press who ran with unsubstantiated and unverified stories. According to Rosenthal and others, PBIFF is still looking forward to a bright future as one of the ultimate film festivals and continuing with their other year round programs and support of education in the Motion Picture Arts