PALM SPRINGS — Elevating its profile several notches through an array of talent-laden special events and a strong representation of foreign titles, the Palm Springs International Film Festival got off to a lively start over the weekend with a star-studded awards gala and a full day devoted to the work of cinematographers.
On the film front, there is wide agreement that the fest is on the right track by soft-peddling American indie entries in favor of an imposing slate of foreign fare, including 20 world premieres and more than 30 foreign language Oscar submissions, many of which would never be seen Stateside otherwise.
Stars come out at night
Saturday night’s awards program enjoyed a stellar turnout, even by Hollywood standards. Actress Annette Bening, accompanied by husband Warren Beatty, directors Milos Forman and M. Night Shyamalan, and lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman all received awards. Comedian Garry Shandling’s long and personal intro of pal Bening proved a particular gutbuster.
Swoosie Kurtz was a smart emcee and Michael Feinstein provided an apt musical intro for the Bergmans.
Cinematographers Day was launched by a thoughtful, probing keynote address by imminent lenser John Bailey, then delved deeply into the schism that currently preoccupies practitioners of the field via two panels.
Morning session was devoted to the Danish-born Dogma 95 movement. “Mifune” helmer Soren Kragh-Jacobsen and Brit lenser Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot “Mifune,” “Celebration” and Gus Van Sant’s upcoming digital film, both testified to the great artistic freedom that was born from “the rules and lack of tools. It was a relief doing a Dogma movie,” said Kragh-Jacobsen, “not to have all that equipment. The images came very much alive like the Czech movies of the late ’60s. It’s like going on a cure doing a Dogma movie.”
‘Arbitrary’ Dogma rules
Mantle stressed, however, that the Dogma rules, which include such strictures as only using available light and ambient sound, “are arbitrary. They could have been other rules. It was playful.”
The collaborators concurred in declaring their days as Dogma adherence are finished. “I’ve done my bit,” Mantle said.
Kragh-Jacobsen said, “Doing a Dogma movie is like a musician going acoustic. It’s extremely inspiring doing it once. I suggest every 50-year-old filmmaker trying it once.”
Followup panel consisted of some of the most notable cinematographers of the era: prodded by moderator Irwin Kirschner, Vilmos Zsigmond, Conrad Hall, Jost Vacano, Dante Spinotti, Owen Roizman, Affonso Beato, Pierre Lhomme and second unit d.p./indie lenser Anette Haellmigk commented on their work with directors after screenings of long excerpts.
Vacano joked that he now calls his virtuoso hand-held, available light work on “Das Boot” Dogma 80. Pedro Almodovar lenser Beato got in a considered dig at the movement by saying that “Dogma and digital make the technological aspect of cinema evident again. I want to make the technological disappear.”