Short work for Palm Springs festgoers

'Gold' takes best of fest cash prize

Director Jacques Bonnavent’s “The Gold Mine” (La Mina de Oro) struck it rich at the Palm Springs Intl. ShortFest on Sunday, taking the event’s best of fest cash prize. The genre-bending Mexican short presents itself as a romance, with a wicked twist turning the story on its head.

Of the 27 prizes the fest bestowed this year, the other major awards include grand jury winner “Off Season,” from director Jonathan van Tulleken; Hanna Geisendorfer’s live-action “Hermann” (in the “over 15 minutes” category); Adam Stafford’s Scottish nonfiction entry “The Shutdown” as top doc; and toon kidlit adaptation “Angry Man” (Sinna Mann) by Norwegian helmer Anita Killi in the animation category.

Palm Springs’ ShortFest is the largest showcase for short subject films in North America, with a strong track record in predicting other awards: Prize winners in the top four categories qualify to compete for Oscars, with 68 entries screened in the past 15 years going on to score Academy Award noms.

This year, the fest hosted actor-turned-academic James Franco, who screened three student films —  “The Feast of Stephen” (a Berlin Film Fest prize winner), “Herbert White” (starring Michael Shannon) and “The Clerk’s Tale” (closing night film of Cannes’ Critics’ Week) —  before answering questions posed by Variety VP and Editorial Director Peter Bart.

Addressing a crowd far more familiar with his acting work, Franco explained his motivation to study filmmaking and poetry (“I was never going to be able to express everything I wanted as an actor,” he said), as well as the reason why he pursued a guest role on “General Hospital.”

“You don’t need to murder somebody to play a murderer,” joked Franco, who got the idea from artist Carter (who directed the actor in the conceptual film “Erasing James Franco” and is now prepping another art-film project called “Maladies,” in which Franco hopes to play a soap star alongside Julianne Moore, Kathy Bates and Catherine Keener).

All three of Franco’s shorts are adapted from or inspired by poems he encountered during his grad studies, as is Sundance opener “Howl,” in which Franco plays beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Though he continues to act in such mainstream projects as “Eat Pray Love,” “127 Hours” and a “Planet of the Apes” prequel, Franco made it clear that he is exploring ways to combine his passions.

“Hopefully in 10 years there will be some big film, acting, poetry extravaganza,” he said.

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