Festgoers at the first few Palm Springs Film Fests could look forward to an impromptu Sonny Bono performance of his iconic “I Got You Babe” at a poolside party. The singer-turned-mayor, who helped found the event, certainly knew how to party, but after that rousing opening event, festivities were fairly subdued.

“Because of the Sonny Bono connection, the fest was always able to pull stars, with Sylvester Stallone honored in one of the first years,” says one veteran attendee.

The fest was then much shorter than its current 12 days, and with attendees largely retirees from the surrounding areas, the partying ended early so everyone could get home to bed.

The gala awards ceremony still attracts legions of sequin-bedecked locals and wraps up at a reasonable hour. The big difference is that ticketholders can now adjourn from the gala to a glam after-party at the ultra-mod Parker Palm Springs hotel — and then spend the next week bouncing from fete to fete.

Fest director Darryl Macdonald says now there’s barely enough time for all the orgs that want to host parties.

With more affairs sponsored by consulates and film boards, as well as more private events held completely outside the fest, it’s not easy to shoehorn in all the countries that want to honor their official foreign-language Oscar entries. Italy, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and others are all planning bashes this year.

The result: Regulars have detected “a more youthful energy” around the various soirees.

“We’ve been seeing a drop in the average overall age,” Macdonald says. “We’re starting to get an influx of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.” The area’s lavish estates provide dramatic backdrops for some of the fetes, whether it’s the piano-shaped pool at Frank Sinatra’s former Twin Palms estate or the swank Viceroy and Parker hotels.

New hotels allow celebrities to stay over instead of heading right back to Los Angeles after the gala. “We have made a name for ourselves to be very discreet, and luxurious in a different kind of way,” boasts Parker general manager Thomas Meding.

One event that’s helped define the new P.S. fest is the Gay-La! reception, held in honor of films with GLBT subject matter. This year 20 films fall under the banner, and Toucan’s Tiki Lounge again hosts the fete, which caters to a significant part of the local population. “Palm Springs was named the nation’s fifth gayest city,” Macdonald points out.

Of course, the fest’s biggest party is its awards gala, which has grown substantially in the last five years, says fest chair Earl Greenberg.

“Nothing can touch the gala for star power,” says Macdonald. Last year’s post-gala afterparty saw Shirley MacLaine and Kathy Bates socializing with Viggo Mortensen and Paul Haggis at the Parker.

Local residents are big supporters of the 2,000-person awards banquet, and Greenberg says the call for press credentials has doubled recently, making for a very crowded red carpet at the convention center.

Area residents also help support the fest with the Houston Gala, held at the estate of local philanthropists Jim and Jackie Lee Houston. “Dreamgirls” star Jennifer Hudson is slated to perform at the large tented bash next Saturday.

“At the beginning it was much smaller,” says Macdonald. “It’s a world away from that now. It’s a more sophisticated audience, with 70% coming from outside the Coachella Valley.”


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