You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Palm Springs Fest Encourages Awards Season Binge Watching

Long known for its foreign film riches, the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival has lately adopted a “best of the fests” approach to take advantage of its prime spot on the calendar.

Its annual awards gala gets under way Jan. 2, barely 24 hours after the last Rose Parade float has lumbered down Colorado Boulevard to the west, and a mere three days before Academy Awards nomination voting begins this year. “Lady Bird” star Saoirse Ronan, “Call Me by Your Name” star Timothee Chalamet, “I, Tonya” mom Allison Janney and “Wonder Woman” herself, Gal Gadot, will be saluted at the gala, which draws 2,500 luminaries, stars and their handlers as well as film enthusiasts annually, and underwrites year-long programming for the organization.

Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch will be honored Jan. 3 at a brunch before opening night Jan. 4. The fest concludes Jan. 15, shortly after the nomination voting concludes.

Artistic director Michael Lerman, still finalizing the fest lineup one month out, expects 170 to 190 films to screen at PSIFF. Around 40 of those will be foreign-language films, including those short-listed by Oscar.

“I think it’s a great time to run a festival,” says Lerman, who is also a programmer at the even larger Toronto film fest and is in his second year at PSIFF. Starting virtually the first of the year, “you can say, this is the best of the past year.”

This approach has resonance for those who haven’t had a chance to catch up with films earlier and those who haven’t seen any films the prior year, he notes. “You can create a conversation about these films.”

The festival draws more than 135,000 attendees annually. But the kickoff gala undeniably generates the most attention in the industry and beyond. Its position on the awards season calendar is key — and the track record of honorees doesn’t hurt either.

“Almost all our honorees get nominated for an Academy Award,” says PSIFF board chairman Harold Matzner, who has been overseeing the gala for 17 years. “Many people feel coming to Palm Springs is a good start to an Academy Awards nomination, and quite a lucky start.”

Indeed, last year, the vast majority of last year’s honorees were nominated. Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) and “La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz went on to receive Oscars while Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”), Nicole Kidman (“Lion”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) were nominated for Academy Awards.

In addition to Ronan, Chalamet, Janney and Gadot, Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”), Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”) and “The Shape of Water” will be honored at this year’s festival. “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart will once again host the event.

The gala itself is a lavish affair at the city’s convention center: It boasts 120 feet of red carpet and heavy security. Matzner says 1,000 people work the event, which grosses $2.5 million.

“It supports the creative goals of Mr. Lerman,” says Matzner, “who is at the end of a two-year contract and will be given a new one.”

Beyond the gala and showcase screenings, the festival will cast a spotlight on Argentina films, and continue its Books to Screen program, Talking Pictures Q&As and New Voices, New Visions program designed to showcase films by first- or second-time filmmakers.

The Books to Screen program will spotlight “Last Flag Flying,” “The Lost City of Z,” with director James Gray, and “Call Me by Your Name” this year. “My Days of Mercy,” with Ellen Page and Kate Mara, will premiere Jan. 11 with a gala screening. The movie “Nostalgia,” starring Jon Hamm and Catherine Keener, will also screen at the fest.

Lerman says he decided to focus on movies from Argentina “because there were too many good movies to ignore this year,” citing Diego Lerman’s “A Sort of Family” and Constanza Novick’s “The Future Ahead” as two examples.

Variety’s Directors to Watch honored at this year’s fest are: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah (“Gangsta”), Augustine Frizzell (“Never Goin’ Back”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Joseph Kahn (“Bodied”), Xavier Legrand (“Custody”), Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting”), Anthony Maras (“The Palace”), Samuel Maoz (“Foxtrot”), Claire McCarthy (“Ophelia”) and Chloe Zhao (“The Rider”).

The festival maintains its strong focus on foreign films. Ninety were submitted this year, and Lerman is winnowing that down to around 40.

“We try to look at all of them,” he says. “I’d love to play all of them. But there’s only space for so many movies.”

The growth of the fest and the gala has been especially gratifying for Matzner, who began shepherding the event in 2000.

“I remember when it was in the museum here and we had 200 people,” he recalls. “It grew rather quickly after 9/11 and it has continued to grow.”
Now, he says, “we’ve kind of maxed out” at the convention center with around 2,500 attends the last few years. “We need a bigger building.”

More Film

  • Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear

    Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear Ex'

    Netflix has added to its roster of Mandarin-language content with the acquisition of rights to Taiwanese dark comedy “Dear Ex.” The award-winning film will play out from Feb. 1. The story involves a recently bereaved widow and a gay man fighting over a dead man’s inheritance, with the woman’s teenage son caught in the middle. [...]

  • Audrey Wells

    Film News Roundup: Audrey Wells Scholarships Launched by UCLA, China's Pearl Studio

    In today’s film news roundup, Pearl Studio and UCLA start a “Say Yes!” scholarship in memory of Audrey Well; Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale are honored; and the “General Magic” documentary gets bought. SCHOLARSHIPS UNVEILED China’s Pearl Studio has made a gift of $100,000 for endowed scholarships to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and [...]

  • Honey Boy Knock Down the House

    Sundance Hot Titles List: 13 Buzzy Films That Have Buyers Talking

    There’s a good reason that much of Hollywood braves the thin mountain air each year to make the trek to the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s not to check out the nearby ski slopes. The annual launch of the indie film gathering brings with it the possibility of discovering the next big thing in moviemaking. [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    Will Oscar Nominations Give This Year's Contenders a Box Office Boost?

    With nominees like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star Is Born,” the 2018 class of movies proved the Oscars don’t need a popular films category to recognize movies that also made bank in theaters. But now that the academy has selected this year’s crop of awards hopefuls, is there any green left to squeeze [...]

  • A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's

    Sundance: A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's Romance-Drama 'The Souvenir'

    A24 has bought the North American rights to Tilda Swinton’s romance-drama “The Souvenir – Part 2,” closing the deal on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. “The Souvenir” is set to make its world premiere at Sundance on Jan. 27, followed by playing in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival in February. [...]

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    Chiwetel Ejiofor Adds Authenticity to Directorial Debut by Shooting in Malawi

    When actor Chiwetel Ejiofor optioned the rights for the 2009 best-seller “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” penning the screenplay for a feature directorial debut that world-premieres in Sundance and then appears in the Berlin Film Festival before being released globally by Netflix this spring, colleagues floated the idea of shooting the Malawi-set film in tried-and-tested [...]

  • ally billboard a star is born

    Oscar Campaign Spending Reaches New Heights in Competitive Season

    The escalating cost of awards campaigning may reach an all-time high this season as heavyweights such as “Roma” and “A Star Is Born” battle for Oscar gold. The quest for an Academy Award has always been expensive, but Netflix’s hunger to nab its first best picture win, coupled with the presence of legitimate studio contenders [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content