Pablo Berger's "Blancanieves," a unique black-and-white… (Cohen Media Group )
The late Sonny Bono founded the Palm Springs International Film Festival while mayor of the desert community, and more than two decades later, the beat goes on for the cinematic celebration. This year's event opens Thursday evening with Pablo Berger's "Blancanieves," a unique black-and-white silent version of "Snow White" from Spain.
The 24th edition of the festival continues through Jan. 14 and will feature 180 films from 68 countries, including 63 features by first-time directors. The lineup boasts 61 premieres, and as usual, foreign film fans are in for a smorgasbord of offerings: The fest will screen 42 of the 71 movies that were submitted by countries around the world to the Oscars for the 2013 foreign language film prize.
Though the festival does feature American independent films, the focus from its inception was to shine a spotlight on international cinema. "We made a conscious choice to really present a diverse menu of international films... not that much in terms of direction has changed since," said festival director Darryl Macdonald. "A film festival should celebrate film first and foremost, and the best way to do that is to provide something for everyone."
FOR THE RECORD:
Palm Springs Film Festival: An article about the Palm Springs International Film Festival in the Jan. 7 Calendar said composer Mychael Danna was given the Frederick Lowe Award for film composing. It is the Frederick Loewe Award. —
THE ENVELOPE: Film festival coverage
About 135,000 people are expected to attend, with some 70% coming from outside of the Coachella Valley, including Canada and Europe.
Among the films scheduled for the festival are "Unfinished Song," a British comedy-drama with Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave about a surly senior citizen who joins his ailing wife's choir group; the movie is the closing night gala presentation. Also showing will be Mike Newell's version of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations," with Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes; the Swedish police thriller "The Hypnotist," which is director Lasse Hallstrom's first film in his native country in 25 years; "Emperor," with Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Fox in a historical drama set in post-World War II Japan; and "The Fifth Season," a darkly surreal tale about nature turning on mankind.
"The Fifth Season," a co-production from Belgium, Netherlands and France, was directed by Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens and is having its U.S. premiere after winning several prizes on the festival circuit in Europe. Two years ago, the festival screened Woodworth and Brosens' "Altiplano."
"Palm Springs is a strong launching point for a film, so we are very pleased and very eager to hear audiences' reaction," the filmmakers said in an email, adding that they find U.S. audiences "comparatively open, generous, varied and engaged."
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Ten emerging international directors whose films are currently without distribution will be vying for the New Voices/New Vision Award, with the winner receiving a Panavision camera rental package. Among the films in this showcase are "Sadourni's Butterflies," a black-and-white silent melodrama from Argentina about an ex-circus dwarf who tries to reclaim his life after a prison sentence; "This Life — Some Must Die, So Others Can Live," a Danish historical drama based on a true story of Danish resistance against the Nazi occupation; and France's "Playground Chronicles," which follows the adventures of a 10-year-old boy in Paris circa 1980.
The festival also shines the spotlight on directors and actors in its "Talking Pictures" showcase. Director Peter Greenaway ("The Pillow Book"), whose latest film "Goltzius and the Pelican Company" is at the festival, will be offering a talk on "The Death of Cinema," while director Tom Hooper and actor Eddie Redmayne will discuss the making of "Les Misérables." Naomi Watts will chat about her career after a screening of "The Impossible," and Alan Cumming will discuss his work in film, TV and theater after a presentation of his latest film, "Any Day Now."
The Awards Gala on Saturday evening at the Palm Springs Convention Center will be emceed by Mary Hart of "Entertainment Tonight" fame, and it will honor several actors and directors who are in contention for Academy Award nominations including Bradley Cooper, Sally Field, Helen Mirren and Richard Gere.
"The gala has been with us the entire 24 years of the festival," said festival chairman Harold Matzner. "It was a smaller event and began to grow. It turned into the first stop on the Oscar campaign about 10 years ago."
Matzner was quick to point out that the Palm Springs award honorees often take home Oscar gold the following month. "Four years in a row, our best actress won the Academy Award," he noted. "Last year, every single person [we honored] was nominated."
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