Palm Springs film fest sees attendance hike

Director touts festival a 'success'

The ninth annual Nortel Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival closed its 12-day run Jan. 19 with the announcement of its audience choice winners: “Mandragora,” “Elles,” “A Forgotten Light,” “The Long Way Home” and “Character.”

“This was our most successful year yet in terms of attendance, industry participation and programming,” fest executive director Craig Prater said. “Attendance is up 14% from last year, and we’ve also seen a jump in the number of industry representatives.”

Prater added that a particularly strong slate of films — 105 selections representing 38 countries — might have helped increase numbers. Of those films screened, eight were world premieres and 41 were U.S. premieres.

In a show of the fest’s increasing international drawing power, four of the top five audience picks were foreign, the exception being “The Long Way Home,” a docu from Mark J. Harris about the homeless and downtrodden at the end of World War II. Two of the favorites were submissions from the Czech Republic, Wictor Grodecki’s “Mandragora,” a riveting, brutally honest portrayal of teen male prostitution in Prague, and Vladimir Michalek’s “A Forgotten Light,” the story of a village priest who fights to save his church.

Rounding out the pack were Luis Galvao Teles’ “Elles” (Luxembourg), a tale of five attractive women coping with life after 40, and Mike van Diem’s “Character” (Netherlands), a bittersweet love story that unfolds within a murder mystery.

With its strong tradition of screening future foreign-language film Oscar laureates (seven of the past nine winners played at the NPSIFF), the fest included 13 official foreign film selections. Apart from “A Forgotten Light,” “Elles” and “Character,” they included Brazil’s “Four Days in September,” Canada’s “Cosmos” and Cuba’s “Vertical Love,” among others.

Record crowds meant sold-out houses, compounded by the presence of industry reps.

“If there was any problem this year it was the crowds,” Prater said. “Obviously we hate to turn people away, but we had to make room for the industry folks as well. As much as we want the audience to see these films, we need to keep in mind the goal of getting these films distributed. In the future, we may need to reeducate the public about the main purpose of a film festival.”

With most industry reps forsaking Palm Springs for Park City for the opening of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 15, there was a palpable decrease in industry presence during the fest’s second weekend. Prater said he doesn’t mind the competition with Sundance. “Of course we’d love to have all of the attention and the publicity that come out of Sundance, but it’s operating on a different scale than we are. Sooner or later there’s going to be a sleeper that comes out of Palm Springs, a film that everyone’s going to be talking about, and people will think of our festival as the place to generate buzz.”

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