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Testing the Springs

Pic snafus vex early going at desert fest

PALM SPRINGS — Growing pains, glitz and an ambitious survey of world cinema characterized the opening days of the 14th edition of the Palm Springs Film Festival.

With the third executive director — film exec Mitch Levine — at the helm in as many years, event has run smoothly but with some hitches, most notably the unintentional unspooling of the English-dubbed version of Roberto Benigni’s “Pinocchio.” Pic was one of 45 entries in the foreign-lingo Oscar race — one of the fest’s continuing showcase strengths — and fest had been assured by Miramax of having the original Italian-lingo version.

These and a few other hiccups were perhaps to be expected in a fest showing nearly 180 features from around the world. But offsetting them were eight weekend sellouts and strong audience support for such Oscar submissions as “The Man Without a Past,” “City of God,” “Hukkle,” “Devdas” and “Nowhere in Africa,” and the British adventure “I Capture the Castle,” as well as enthusiasm over “The Pianist,” intro’d by star Adrien Brody, and “Spider,” with co-star and fest honoree Lynn Redgrave.

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Artistic standouts were eclectic, ranging from Canadian maverick Guy Maddin’s masterful blending of silent film style and ballet, “Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary,” and local unveilings of lauded U.S. docus “Stone Reader” and “Spellbound” to Chad’s exquisite Oscar entry, “Abouna.”

Fest’s impressively broad offering of Indian cinema was a prime conversation point, while certain trends keep popping up, from opera-on-film (repped by Franco Zeffirelli’s pallid opening-nighter “Callas Forever” as well as Magyar epic “Bank Ban”) to pics depicting gay murder in London (“Endgame,” “Nine Dead Gay Guys”).

Desert stars

Hollywood’s presence was shown off Saturday night with fest’s annual gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center, emceed by Lily Tomlin. Awards were bestowed upon Redgrave, Zeffirelli, Michel Legrand, Mace Neufeld and Stephen Daldry, while Quincy Jones, James Cromwell, Phillip Noyce, Allison Janney and Valarie Pettiford made appearances. Gala attendees included Julie Taymor, composer Elliot Goldenthal, lensers Michael Ballhaus and Dante Spinotti, author Sidney Sheldon and thesps Juliet Mills, Sally Kirkland, Jack Klugman and Pat Morita.

Vilmos Zsigmond accepted the career award on behalf of the late cinematographer Conrad Hall, one of the fest’s special honorees.

The snafu over “Pinocchio” had further repercussions, with the Fipresci critics’ jury disqualifying Benigni’s fairy tale from consideration for the best pic prize among the Oscar selection group. An additional title in this group, “Ogu and Mampato in Rapa Nui” from Chile, also was nixed by the critics’ jury since the Spanish-lingo print lacked English subtitles. (Another Miramax entry set to show in its uncut, original form, Stephen Chow’s Hong Kong hit “Shaolin Soccer,” was delivered in the trimmed, English-dubbed version prepped for U.S. release.)

Event continues through Sunday, capped with awards announcements and closing-night entry “The Great American Songbook.”

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