The 19th Palm Springs International Film Festival ("PSIFF") is set to begin in two weeks, and although the full 230-film line-up won't be announced until December 23, bits and pieces of what we might expect to see from January 3 to 14 have recently been brought to light.
The three International Gala titles announced thus far are Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, Joseph Cedar's Beaufort and Danielle Luchetti's My Brother is an Only Child. Akin's film will also be the opening the Bay Area's Berlin & Beyond festival on January 10, leading me to believe that the director himself will soon be California-bound to support the film at both festivals. The Edge of Heaven, for which Akin won a Best Screenplay award at Cannes, is Germany's official entry for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Cedar's Beaufort, you may recall, became Israel's Oscar entry after their first choice—Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit—was disqualified for having too much English dialogue. Both films, however, will screen at Palm Springs this year as part of a spotlight series celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary.
Two other films that have been announced are the U.S. premiere of Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me, and Jonah Markowitz's Shelter. The former is actress Hunt's directorial debut, and it will open the festival on January 3. Shelter, which was well received at this year's Frameline festival in the Bay Area, will be the featured attraction at the Gay!La—Palm Springs' big LGBT gala festival event.
These six films are all that's been announced so far, but one could confidently divine another 50-or-so titles by taking a look at the list of submissions for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Palm Springs has created a niche for itself by becoming the only festival in the world to screen nearly all of the films submitted in this Academy Award category. This year there are 63 submissions, and you'll find them sublimely catalogued at The Film Experience. Perusing the list, I have my fingers most fervently crossed for Argentina’s XXY, Iceland’s Jar City, Japan’s I Just Didn’t Do It, Kazakhstan’s Mongol, Korea’s Secret Sunshine, Romania’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Singapore’s 881, Sweden’s You, the Living and Turkey’s Takva – A Man’s Fear of God.
If you read anything at all about the PSIFF in the mainstream press, it's usually in connection with the festival's star-studded Awards Gala. Because the festival takes place during the height of awards season frenzy, potential nominees are only too happy to make the short trek from Los Angeles to the desert. This year's Awards Gala occurs on January 5th, and the list of recipients is as impressive as always. Daniel Day-Lewis and Halle Berry will be receiving the Desert Palm Achievement Awards, while Emile Hirsch and Nikki Blonsky will pick up the Rising Star Awards. Marion Cotillard reaps the Breakthrough Performance Award for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. The Ensemble Performance Award will go to the cast of Hairspray, and John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Allison Janney, Zac Efron and of course Blonsky, are expected to attend the event. (The festival has also scheduled an outdoor, sing-along screening of Hairspray for the previous evening). Three director awards will be given at the gala, starting with the Director of the Year prize for Sean Penn. Joe Wright will accept the Sonny Bono Visionary Award and John Sayles the American Maverick Award. The film Juno has been chosen for the Chairman's Vanguard Award, and producer Jerry Weintraub will be honored with the Patron of the Arts Award.
I must confess that awards and galas and stars are the furthest thing from my mind when it comes to the PSIFF. For me, it's all about the films. At last year's festival—my first—I managed to suck up 35 of them in nine days. Many of those films never made it to the Bay Area in 2007, which convinced me of the festival's indispensability. For those of us who can't make it to the top-tier international festivals, Palm Springs is a superb, user-friendly alternative. The line-up is extensive (can any other U.S. festival, apart from Seattle and Tribeca, boast a larger selection of feature films?), the ticket prices are reasonable and the audiences are enthusiastic. (And there are free shuttle vans to whisk you from venue to venue, making it strategically possible to see four, five or even six films a day).
Over the past 12 months, I've managed to compile a personal, 80-film wish list of titles from 2007's major and minor film festivals. It will be interesting to see how many of those are in evidence when the Palm Springs 2008 line-up is announced a few days from now. Somehow, I'm not expecting to be disappointed.
Cross-published on Twitch.
12/19/07 UPDATE: Variety leaks the PSIFF lineup.