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Palm Beach International Film Festival returns with nearly 100 films

South Florida's answer to Motown was born amid Overtown's booming soul scene in 1963. Deep City Records, the first black-owned label in Florida, engineered a Miami sound built from gritty soul, funk and brash drumlines reminiscent of marching bands, along with Latin rhythms borrowed from the Caribbean and the Bahamas.

The saga of Deep City and its co-founders, schoolteachers Willie Clarke and the late Johnny Pearsall, is profiled in the hour-long documentary "Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound," screening Sunday afternoon at Lake Worth's Stonzek Theatre as part of the returning Palm Beach International Film Festival. Before Deep City went under in 1968, the label discovered local talent in Willie "Little Beaver" Hale, Betty Wright, Helene Smith and Clarence Reid, better known today as the mask-wearing dirty-rap pioneer Blowfly.

"I've lived in this city for 50 years, and I never knew these artists existed until someone gave me this reissue CD called 'Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label.' It was terrific," says Dennis Scholl, vice president for arts at the Knight Foundation, who directed and produced the film with Chad Tingle and Marlon Johnson. "Deep City wasn't a clone of Motown or Stax. It was a big gumbo of different influences."

Different influences may also describe the lineup of 92 feature films, documentaries, shorts and music videos from 40 countries unspooling April 3 through April 10 at four Palm Beach County theaters. This year, festival executive director Randi Emerman says, PBIFF will spotlight Canadian cinema with films that originally screened at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, a new partnership this year, including the Jason Priestley-directed closing-night film "Cas and Dylan."

The festival will kick off Thursday night with the period drama "Belle," about the mixed-race daughter (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) of an aristocratic Navy admiral (Tom Wilkinson). Also notable: "The Jewish Experience," a series of 24 Jewish- and Israel-centric films screening throughout the festival; the Music and Merriment Film Showcase of music videos at South Shores Tavern in Lake Worth (8-10 p.m. Sunday); and a Lifetime Achievement Award presentation to "Mad Men" and Broadway actor Robert Morse, who appears in the Rick McKay-directed documentary "Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age" (7 p.m. Monday, April 7).

"[Morse] has had a lifetime of great and noticeable work," Emerman says. "I still remember seeing him in 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,' though I'm probably dating myself here."

The 19th annual Palm Beach International Film Festival will run April 3- 10 at Muvico Parisian 20 and IMAX at CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Cobb Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Worth Playhouse's Stonzek Theatre and Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton. Single tickets cost $8-$10.50, and festival passes cost $225-$450. Call 561-362-0003 or go to

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