'Lives of Others' best narrative feature

Finding even more films and countries to tap than in previous sessions, the 18th edition of the Palm Springs fest wrapped Sunday having unspooled 255 films from 73 countries, a nearly 10% jump in volume from last year.

Despite fest’s heavy leaning toward foreign language films, auds’ top preferences were dominated by English-language pics. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s heavily touted East German drama, “The Lives of Others,” topped ballots for the audience feature award, followed (in order) by tyro Yank helmer Steve Sawalich’s world preem “Music Within,” Fredi M. Murer’s Swiss pic “Vitus,” John Jeffcoat’s “Outsourced” and Lena Einhorn’s “Nina’s Journey.”

For top doc, auds gave laurels to Lucy Walker’s acclaimed U.K. work, “Blindsight,” tracking a group of blind Tibetan youth climbing Mt. Everest. Announced runners-up were: “Beyond the Call” by “Genghis Blues” helmer Adrian Belic; Frank Popper’s little-guy-in-politics yarn “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?”; Linda Hattendorf’s “The Cats of Mirikitani”; and Rob Stewart’s underwater Canuck doc, “Sharkwater.”

Fest has made a mark during Oscar season as the only public venue to screen the large majority of foreign-language submissions to the Acad, and, like overall event, the section grew to 55 titles, up from last year’s 48.

Fipresci critics jury is the only entity outside the Acad itself to weigh in on the category, and deemed Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” best in what was generally viewed as a weak field. The critics jury also gave thesp nods to Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding” and to actress Blanca Lewin in Matias Bize’s Chilean two-hander, “In Bed.”

In 13-film New Voices/New Visions section, jury prize went to Iranian director Rafi Pitts’ working-class drama, “It’s Winter,” while Argentine cineaste Veronica Chen earned a special jury prize for her marathon-swimmer film, “Agua.”

Jeffcoat’s “Outsourced,” which also opened fest, scored the John Schlesinger award for debut feature. Sunday closer was North American preem of John Boorman’s “The Tiger’s Tail.”

Fest’s expansion was accompanied by an added venue and a midnight movie-style section, as well as by unprecedented projection snafus that were a nearly daily occurrence.

Gala tribute recipients featured several repping Oscar season contenders, including Kate Winslet and Todd Field from “Little Children”; helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and the ensemble of “Babel”; multi-film contender Cate Blanchett; “Flags of our Fathers” co-star Adam Beach; and composer Philip Glass, who penned the score for “Notes on a Scandal.” Other nods went to Jessica Biel and “Little Miss Sunshine,” for annual vanguard prize.

Estimated admissions reached 120,000.

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