Stars turn out for soggy Palm Springs fest start

The fourth edition of Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival got off to both a starry and a soggy start over the weekend, with a curious mixture of international and independent films, numerous filmmakers and national critics in attendance, audiences consisting largely of retirees and a pricey tribute to local resident Frank Sinatra.

With heavy rains in Southern California creating havoc for visitors arriving both by air and auto, there were plenty of stories about white-knuckle flights into the radar-less local airport and normally two-hour car trips from L.A. taking up to five hours, as well as some no-shows.

Still, attendance was strong at most shows; quite a few directors, actors and other participants arrived with their films. A sizable Canadian contingent turned out for Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Leolo,” even if the director did not.

Other early fest favorites included the opener, “‘Map of the Human Heart,” with director Vincent Ward present, Stan Lai’s “The Peach Blossom Land,” world preem of Tom Flynn’s “Watch It,” Alex van Warmerdam’s “The Northerners” and Temistocles Lopez’s “Chain of Desire,” for which the director appeared along with thesps Seymour Cassell, Malcolm MacDowell, Assumpta Serna and Patrick Bauchau.

Industry reps appeared to be few and far between, although this could pick up on the second weekend.

The $ 250-per-plate gala for Sinatra turned out to be a rather perfunctory, if lavish, affair. Presided over by Robert Wagner, event included more than an hour of clips of Sinatra career highlights in pictures, along with brief remarks from civic types, director George Sidney and James Stewart, who received the same Desert Palm Achievement Award last year.

Finally, the Chairman of the Board appeared and spoke for a little over a minute. Looking fit but sounding a bit hesitant, he thanked the crowd, said he was thrilled, and acknowledged, “I couldn’t have been more lucky than I have in my life. … I’ve loved every minute I’ve had in my life in show business and out of show business. … There’s not much more I can say.”

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