PALM SPRINGS — Despite unprecedented downpours and unanticipated mob scenes, the latest edition of the Palm Springs Film Festival ended Monday in drier, less hectic conditions, capped with a 15% jump in ticket sales and an 8% attendance uptick from 2004.
Danielle Arbid’s Beirut-based wartime drama, “In the Battlefields,” won fest’s top competition prize, the New Voices/New Visions Award, for best work by an emerging filmmaker.
Mideast women cineastes dominated the 12-pic field, as Keren Yedaya earned honorable mention for her Camera d’Or-winning Israeli drama, “Or.” Three-member jury for the top competition section included actor-producer-helmer Diane Baker, producer-helmer George Englund and film critic-historian Emanuel Levy. Awards were announced Sunday.
Fest’s John Schlesinger prize for top tyro narrative or docu work, selected by programmers, was Mexico-based Jesse Acevedo’s doc on Brazilian music and racial politics, “Everything Blue.”
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Aud award for narrative was given to Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Sea Inside.” Audience favorite for best docu was Yaron Zilberman’s profile of the legendary Jewish Sports Club, “Watermarks.”
Both were set for repeat Monday unspoolings along with other aud favorites (including New Vision/New Voices contenders “Electric Shadows” from China’s Xiao Jiang and “Whisky Romeo Zulu” from Argentina’s Enrique Pineyro, as well as Raymond De Felitta’s and Paul Reiser’s world preem comedy, “The Thing About My Folks” (an audience award runner-up, along with Marjan Safinia’s and Joseph Boyle’s docu “Seeds”), and Adolfo Aristarain’s intimate Argentine epic, “Roma,” both of which received gala showcases).
Exec director Darryl Macdonald attributed much of the fest’s revenue increase to a dramatic 20% rise in fest pass sales — a rise that caused some headaches opening weekend when staff was momentarily overwhelmed by the crowd of passholders.
“We had based operations on 2004 numbers,” said Macdonald, now in his second year at Palm Springs, “but those were just insufficient for the demand we faced. Once some adjustments were made, crowds moved much more smoothly.”
Palm Springs’ international profile tends to be better known in Paris than in adjacent Los Angeles, and the globalprofile included 65 countries, with the fest’s ongoing showcase being the Acad’s foreign-lingo Oscar selections (44 of 50 in the field). An emphasis on Latin America was perceived as a particular programming highlight, allowing for concentrated surveys of such filmmaking hotbeds as Argentina.
Macdonald noted that guest filmmakers attended in greater numbers this year, including Walter Salles (recipient of fest’s international filmmaker award), Charles Dance (with fest closer “Ladies in Lavender”), Wim Wenders, Bill Condon, Lucia Murat, Pineyro, Acevedo, De Felitta and Reiser.
One of fest’s pleasures is its lack of a deal-making atmosphere, yet buzz on deals nevertheless was in the air for Yank entries “Americano,” “Life of the Party” and “The Thing About My Folks.” Although annual international film critics Fipresci jury was suspended this year, fest officials expect it to return in 2006.