Film festival's lineup features more domestic fare

The international festival year regularly kicks off in the Southern California desert, where Palm Springs has successfully rolled out the welcome mat to a wide array of global film for 20 years. This starting point has long seemed apt, since the festival’s identity is wrapped up in its focus on non-U.S. films, a sound strategy given its close proximity in the calendar to Sundance, the traditional magnet for new American indie cinema.

But just as the domestic theatrical scene is changing for foreign-language movies, so the scene may be shifting in Palm Springs. “Almost one-quarter of our 210-film lineup comes from the U.S.,” says exec director Darryl Macdonald, “which never occurred to us during the programming phase as a possibility.”

Among the American world premieres (an unusually high 14 total), “X-Files” alum R.W. Goodwin has the sci-fi thriller “Alien Trespass,” picked up for distribution by Roadside Attractions and slotted in Palm Springs as a gala screening.

The prime slot goes to Nigel Cole’s Christopher Walken starrer “$5 a Day,” which preemed in Toronto, while Guillermo Arriaga’s U.S.-made “The Burning Plain” holds down closing night.

The lineup’s share of documentaries has also increased, notes Macdonald, “because the overall field was stronger, most coming from the U.S.,” and highlighted by world-premiering titles such as “Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner,” about the visionary Los Angeles architect, and Peter Hanson’s “Tales From the Script,” featuring insider insights on the Hollywood screenwriting game.

“To be frank,” says Macdonald, “I had burnt out on American indie films in recent years. But we’re finding that there are fresh, new voices, which is also in line with another trend in our overall selection, in which more than one-third of the films are by first- or second-time directors.”

And to those who may speculate that the surprising batch of American movies in Palm Springs is simply a case of Sundance rejects looking for a backup festival, Macdonald suggests that this doesn’t appear to be the case: “That had been a concern of mine in the past, but I don’t sense that with these films this year.”

On the fest’s international front, the big change is a deliberate reduction in the number of foreign-language Oscar submissions featured, a regular Palm Springs staple. Fest brass decided to curate from the field of 67 films rather than continue the old practice of scrambling to gather up as many as possible — a practice that many Palm Springs regulars felt had outlived its usefulness.

“We started with a reduced field of 40 films,” Macdonald notes, “but because we operate as a team, the support for certain films brought the final number to 50. Quality, not quantity, is what we’re going for.”

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