Cinematic sensation! Vero Film Fest lives up to the hype

Phil Osborne, Christine Luethje, Susan Horn, David Yakir and Elise Mahovlich. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

Organizers planned something for everyone during the sixth edition of the Vero Beach Film Festival, an extended weekend of “Cultivating Cinema, Celebrating Vero Beach.”

Supporters got an early start at the Grand Harbor Beach Club with the Friends of the Festival Beachside Dinner, a sponsor event that featured a gourmet wine dinner, the first of many special events.

The next day, David Yakir, VBFF executive director, welcomed attendees to the festival’s official opening night ceremonies at the Vero Beach Museum of Art Leonhardt Auditorium.

“We think we have a great festival for you,” said Yakir, adding that they had searched for an appropriate film to open up at the museum. They chose “Close to Vermeer,” a film about a museum curator putting together a Dutch Master exhibition, with intrigue over whether one of the paintings had, in fact, been painted by Vermeer.

“I want to thank the Kite Capital people for really making this possible,” said Yakir, also extending gratitude to the numerous other event sponsors.

“I just want to thank you all for being here with us for the first day. I also need to say a big thank you to all of our volunteers. This would not be happening without them,” said Susan Keller Horn, festival co-founder.

“We’ve got three more incredible days left of the festival, and I know you’re going to have a lot of fun. And I think you’re going to be really impressed with the winners,” said Horn.

“We have about 35 films represented here, so you’re going to see a whole bunch of filmmakers all over town. Please ask them about their films. Go see their showings, and ask questions at their Q&As. I think you will absolutely have a great time,” she added, before introducing Barry Shapiro, film jury chair.

“It’s been my privilege to work with the film festival to put together this incredible panel of jurors,” said Shapiro.

Introducing the jurors, members of the film industry who hailed from Vero Beach and around the country, he called them “great film professionals with incredible expertise, an eye for creativity. These people spend a lot of time looking at these films and adding their incredible knowledge to bring you what we thought was the best of the best.”

“It’s such a great festival. I love being part of this festival, and I love being part of this town,” said Xaque Gruber, before leading off the presentations with the student film awards.

“I watched all of the student films, and wow, they’re pretty terrific. It was a very difficult choice,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by all the other jurors as they presented the awards to the appreciative filmmakers.

“Let’s hear it for all the directors. These wonderful people who gave us their skills and their input, and thank you so much, judges, for the great job you did,” said Shapiro at the conclusion of the awards presentation.

Afterwards, folks moved into the museum’s Laura and Bill Buck Atrium for the Filmmakers Ball, where they mingled with the filmmakers and nibbled on refreshments.

Commenting that nonprofits should support one another, Yakir invited Jane McNulty Snead, director of development for United Against Poverty, to share the mission of that nonprofit with the crowd.

“This community is one of the most philanthropic communities in this country. They often talk about the gap between the top level and the bottom, but they don’t talk about how much work is done by those at the top to bring people up,” said Snead.

She explained that UP empowers those living in poverty to lift themselves and their families to economic self-sufficiency through four core programs: Membership Grocery, Crisis Navigation, Success Training Employment Program (S.T.E.P.), and Education.

On Friday evening, following a full day of film viewing, oenophiles gathered at the Heritage Center for the Engel & Völkers Grand Wine Tasting to swirl, sip and savor wines from around the world, and sampled a sumptuous charcuterie tower.

Many also took advantage of the special wine-ordering opportunity through Rob and Michele Wayne at Varietals and More.

The Vero Visions showings at the Dale Sorensen Theater, aka the Indian River County Commission Chambers featured films with a local flavor, with movies either about Vero Beach, filmed here, or created by someone from the area.

Nine films showcasing local talent were screened, including dramatic and romantic stories, a Ballet Vero Beach dance dramatization of “Ophelia” starring BVB dancers Katherine Eppink and Anders Southerland, an insider’s look into the local pickleball scene and shorts featuring nonprofits.

Other interesting options over the weekend included the Harvey and Margot Kornick Hidden Cellar at the Woman’s Club, featuring wines from their private collection, and After Hours Mixers at Edgewood Eatery for the late-night owls. A Saturday night ’50s Sock Hop at the Heritage Center drew guests dressed in poodle skirts, leather jackets and saddle shoes, who did their best to twist and jitterbug to some good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll.

Throughout the weekend, as cinephiles ventured from one venue to another watching the variety of engaging films, they cast votes for their own favorites. And at the End of Festival Mixer at the Heritage Center on Sunday, Gruber, with his usual panache, announced the Audience Choice Awards.

“It’s been a fabulous festival. Thank you for supporting independent filmmakers,” said Horn, applauding everyone – filmmakers, audiences, volunteers and sponsors – for their support and toasting another successful film festival as the house lights went down, and the final credits rolled.

For information about next year’s film festival, visit

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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