Palm Springs film fest kicks off
One of the nation's biggest film festivals is just getting started, and it's not happening in Los Angeles, New York or Park City, Utah.
The 23rd annual Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off Thursday and continues through Jan. 16. For many, it signals the start of the yearlong film festival circuit and – as a precursor to the Golden Globes and Academy Awards – the unofficial beginning of movie awards season.
Because of its proximity to Hollywood, Palm Springs attracts celebrities of all stripes, as well as a bevy of film industry insiders. This year's guest list includes Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Gary Oldman, Charlize Theron, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, James Franco, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Marcia Gay Harden, Aidan Quinn and Octavia Spencer.
About 187 films from 73 countries are scheduled, including two world premieres, 22 North American premieres and 36 U.S. premieres.
"It's the perfect setting for the festival to begin with," said fest director Darryl Macdonald, who has worked on the festival since its incarnation, when a team under the leadership of former Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono brought it from idea to reality.
"We all agreed on the setting," Macdonald said. "It's the time of year (Bono) wanted to do it. There are large numbers of Hollywood people who have homes here in the desert. There are a lot of industry people behind the scenes, Hollywood or ex-Hollywood people who are here year-round."
The film festival has natural appeal to Orange County residents as well. Gregg Schwenk, chief executive officer and executive director of the Newport Beach Film Festival, attends the Palm Springs fest every year with a contingent from the Newport gathering.
"I think there are a lot of parallels" between the two festivals, Schwenk said. "Both are large festivals. Both are resort destination opportunities. There are a number of people who have homes in both Palm Springs and in Newport, or the greater Orange County area."
The Palm Springs festival excels in international films, and Schwenk said each year his festival will show a number of movies that first had a screening in the Coachella Valley. This year, the Palm Springs fest will screen 40 of the 63 official submissions for best foreign language film at the Oscars.
A FINGER ON THE PULSE
The 23rd annual film fest opened Thursday with a gala screening of "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," a romantic comedy starring Ewan McGregor as a fisheries scientist, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas. The Middle East-based film will screen again at 7 p.m. Monday at Palm Springs High School.
The closing film, "Almanya, Welcome to Germany," is a comedy about multiple generations of a German-Turkish family. It won best screenplay (gold) and film (silver) at the 2011 German Film Awards, and will be part of the closing night gala, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Palm Springs High School. Tickets are $50 each.
Making their world premieres during the festival are "If I Were You," a romantic dramedy starring Gay Harden and Quinn, and "A Thousand Cuts," a thriller starring Michael O'Keeffe. "If I Were You" plays at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Camelot Theatres and 4:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at Palm Springs Regal 9. "A Thousand Cuts" screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Palm Springs Art Museum's Annenberg Auditorium, and at 4 p.m. Jan. 15 at Camelot Theatres.
This year, the festival is focusing on cinematic offerings from the Middle East. As part of its "Arabian Nights" program, the fest is presenting 11 new films made in Middle Eastern countries, including four from Morocco, two from Egypt and two from the Palestinian territories.
"Really in the last year and a half, we've seen this upsurge in new talents and really well-crafted films from the Middle East," Macdonald said. "It's an area of the world we're not used to seeing a lot of cinema from. They feel fresh. Each culture has its own form of storytelling, and in the Arab world, they have their own way."
Macdonald commented that there's unquestionably a connection between the so-called Arab Spring and the flowering of Middle Eastern cinema.
"We were seeing this expression of people's concerns and feeling through their art before it surfaced on the streets," he said. Film provided the "focus and opportunity for people in other Arab countries to follow suit." However, the "images we see on TV are quite different from what unfolds for us in these films."
One film that's attracting significant buzz is "Habibi," a story about a Palestinian couple that struggles to stay together in Gaza. Directed by Lebanese American Susan Youssef, the film will make its U.S. premiere Friday (sold out) and at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Palm Springs Regal 9 (standby tickets only).
MORE SPECIAL OFFERINGS
Other highlights include "Sacrifice," a new film by Chinese director Chen Kaige (screening at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Palm Springs Regal 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday at Camelot Theatres); "The Woman in the Fifth" (from the United Kingdom, France and Poland), a psychological thriller starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke (7 p.m. Wednesday and 1 p.m. Jan. 13 at Palm Springs Regal 9); and the U.S. premiere of "Elena," a Russian film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, which won a special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival (4 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Jan. 12 at the Palm Canyon Theatre).
In conjunction with the Allied Arts Association of Palm Springs, the festival and dozens of businesses are hosting a photographic exhibit of the work of Bruno Bernard, also known as Bernard of Hollywood. Bernard shot classic Hollywood celebrities, including hundreds of images of Marilyn Monroe. His images will be on display in storefront windows throughout Palm Spring's uptown design district, centered around Palm Canyon Drive.
More than 130,000 people attended the festival last year, and organizers are looking to match or exceed that number. The 2012 budget is $4 million, Macdonald said.
For a complete schedule and information on films and events, visit psfilmfest.org.
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