Film Festival Returns Lake Worth Playhouse To Its Movie Palace Roots
When Charlie Birnbaum saw the logo design for the L-Dub Film Festival, he flipped out . . . but in a good way.
“I said, 'This is perfect!’ I couldn’t have asked for more,” says Birnbaum, manager of Lake Worth Playhouse’s Stonzek Theatre.
The logo on the right depicts a young woman, part Gibson Girl, part Twilight-saga vampire, wearing an antique, hand-crank movie camera as a hat. The graphic was designed by Lake Worth tattoo artist Michael Pucciarelli, known to the locals simply as “Pooch.”
To L-Dub Director James Venable, the fact that the logo would look at home on somebody’s bicep embodies the spirit of the festival.
“We’ve adopted the lady,” laughs Venable, a documentary filmmaker. “It really lets you know that when you come here, you’re gonna see something special.”
A Storied Past
From September 27-29, the fourth annual L-Dub Film Festival will screen about 50 films at the Stonzek Theater – the black-box performance space attached to the Lake Worth Playhouse.
Both the Stonzek, an art-house cinema showing independent movies 365 days a year, and the film festival are bringing the Playhouse back full-circle to its movie roots. In recent years, the 300-seat Art Deco-style Lake Worth Playhouse has been home to one of Palm Beach County’s oldest community theater troupes.
But it began its life as a movie palace, built in the early 1920’s by Illinois brothers Clarence and Lucien Oakley. (The theater’s ceiling beams are still stenciled “O” and “T,” for “Oakley Theatre.”)
In 1928, the theater was virtually demolished by a devastating hurricane. The brothers had been planning to rebuild, but financial troubles brought on by the Great Depression hit them hard. A despairing Lucien Oakley committed suicide in 1931 and his brother died of a heart attack soon after.
The Oakleys’ untimely deaths gave rise to rumors that the Lake Worth Playhouse is haunted.
“I don’t think there’s a ghost,” says Venable, with a chuckle. “But there’s definitely something here that makes you want to keep coming back."
L-Dub (a nickname for Lake Worth invented by the city’s young skateboarders and surfers, according to Birnbaum) was founded in 2010 by a local filmmaker with the goal of expanding the opportunities for indie moviemakers in South Florida. The festival reached out to film students and industry veterans for entries – and to Lake Worth business owners for funding -- and received both in abundance.
“Even though the economy has been very difficult for all the businesses, they’ve been as supportive as they can be,” says Stephanie Smith, Lake Worth Playhouse executive director. “Lake Worth is very much about helping each other.”
The festival is still accepting submissions (the deadline is September 3) in film genres ranging from full-length features to music videos. In addition, the three-day event will include a series of free filmmaking seminars that are open to the public. And although L-Dub is known primarily for screening films by local artists, this year the festival formally put out a call for international submissions.
But L-Dub’s organizers say the festival will never lose its down-home, neighborhood flavor, as long as there are filmmakers in South Florida.
“We will be showing a movie made by a local eight-year-old girl, who took her American Beauty dolls and did a four-minute stop-motion animated movie,” says Birnbaum. “That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep this festival going.”