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Burt Reynolds coming to Vero film festival

Photo: Photo from the film Dog Years with Burt Reynolds and Ariel Winter courtesy of Bob Franklin.

Add Burt Reynolds to the growing list of big names coming to the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival June 9.

Reynolds, a longtime Palm Beach County resident, is best known for movies like “Smokey and the Bandit,” “The Cannonball Run,” “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard.”

“Yes, he’s definitely coming,” gushed a breathless Jerusha Stewart, the three-day festival’s founder. “He’s doing the Friday opening night awards ceremony bash at our newest venue, the ‘WOW!’ tent in Riverside Park.”

Before that party, Reynolds’ latest movie, “Dog Years,” will be make its Florida debut at nearby Riverside Theatre. Tickets to both events are $30.

Joining Reynolds at the Vero festival are the film’s writer and director, Adam Rifkin; and Neil Mandt, “Dog Years” producer.

The new work, which premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, also stars Chevy Chase as Reynolds’ character’s best friend. The film begins with an actual clip of Reynolds appearing on a TV talk show – with his current character’s name dubbed over his own. As he broods over his faded fame, Chase convinces him to go to Nashville to personally accept a lifetime achievement award. From there, he detours to Knoxville to visit his childhood home.

In Vero, Reynolds will receive the festival’s Life Worth Living Legend award in recognition of his many accomplishments.

Besides successful Hollywood films, his career includes establishing a theater and training institute in Jupiter, now known as the Jupiter Maltz Theatre.

Reynolds broke ground in 1978 on The Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre, as it was initially called, which hosted more celebrities than any other in the area at that time.

Reynolds and his friend and frequent co-star Nelson Reilly taught acting classes at the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater. It remains in operation today and Reynolds still teaches a master class there, by invitation only. One of the Vero film festival’s local filmmakers, Tina Pfieffer, has been a master class student there.

Reynolds is the son of a West Palm Beach police officer. He played football for Palm Beach High and in 1954 was a starter at Florida State University. Sidelined by a knee injury, he took up acting and became one of the biggest box-office draws of his era.

Reynolds now lives in Tequesta.

Other notables in attendance at the Vero festival will include film critic Jeffrey Lyons; Academy Award-winning “La-La Land” producer Molly Smith; Ben Lyons, Jeffrey’s son and an on-air host for; and Aaron Mendelsohn, co-creator and co-writer of the “Air Bud” film franchise. All are serving as judges for the festival selections and will be in attendance at various screenings.

“We’re such a young film festival that people in the industry see us as emerging and up-and-coming, and they are thrilled to be a part of our festival. They see themselves as nurturing something new,” says Stewart.

She said when the organization approached various professionals about participating, “Everybody was saying ‘Let me see.’ Nobody was saying no.”

Last summer’s Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival was a startling success in its inaugural year. But its Life Worth Living Legend award had to be accepted in absentia. The winner, part-time Vero resident Gloria Estefan, had a good excuse: she was at the Tony Awards, where she and the cast of her bio-musical “On Your Feet” performed.

For a full schedule and list of participants, and passes for screenings and events, go to VBWFFcom.