Festival Director Darryl Macdonald added, “Record attendance, supremely smooth operations and enormously positive audience and industry feedback made this year’s Festival an unqualified success on every level. In a year when so many festivals worldwide are reeling from the double whammy of falling ticket sales and diminishing sponsorships, it’s hugely heartening to see Palm Springs reverse that trend and enliven audiences into the bargain.”
This year’s Festival attendees selected The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sweden/Denmark/Germany) directed by Niels Arden Oplev, as the Mercedes-Benz Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. From the best-selling novel, this gripping thriller brings to mind both The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en in its tale of an investigative journalist trying to crack a 40-year-old murder that may have been the work of a still-at-large serial killer.
The runner-up film was The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Bulgaria/Germany/Slovenia). Other audience narrative favorites include: Backyard (Mexico), Bride Flight (Netherlands), For A Moment, Freedom (Austria/France), I Love You Phillip Morris (USA/France), Max Manus (Norway/Denmark/Germany), A Matter of Size (Isreael/France/Germany), The Over the Hill Band (Belgium), Today’s Special (USA), White Wedding (South Africa) and Winter in Wartime (Netherlands/Lithuania).
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (USA) directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith received the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. On October 1, 1969, Daniel Ellsberg began smuggling a top-secret report about the history of the Vietnam War out of a safe in his office and, ultimately, into the pages of The New York Times. This gripping documentary explores the profound political and legal consequences that followed, and Ellsberg’s personal journey from government insider to anti-war activist.
The runner-up film was Inside Hana’s Suitcase (Canada/Czech Republic). Other audience documentary favorites include: The Art of the Steal (USA), Dumbstruck (USA/Japan/Bahamas), The Great Contemporary Art Bubble (UK/Germany/France/Netherlands), Learning from Light: The Vision of I.M. Pei (USA/Qatar), Nobody’s Perfect (Germany), On These Shoulders We Stand (USA), Only When I Dance (UK/Brazil), Sergio (USA), Soundtrack For A Revolution (USA), The Sun Behind The Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom (India/UK/USA/Austria) and The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (New Zealand).
A special jury of international film critics reviewed the official Best Foreign Language submissions to the Academy Awards screened at this year’s Festival to award the FIPRESCI Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. This year’s FIPRESCI jury members include Jonas Holmberg, Jan Stuart and Katherine Tulich. The jury selected Involuntary, Sweden’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, directed by Ruben Östlund. A quirky comedy about the nature of group dynamics: Two teenage girls take risqué pictures and get drunk; a group of young men experiment with sex; a righteous teacher tries to set things “right”; and a bus driver holds a group of passengers prisoner. As described by juror Jan Stuart, “Involuntary investigates the subject of group think and individual responsibility through an interwoven series of fraught social situations. Ostlund, who also wrote the screenplay, deploys a diabolically askew camera lens throughout, deliberately obscuring our vision in ways that mine maximal tension from each of his mini-dramas and implicate the audience in the disruptive behavior of his characters.”
Tedo Bekhauri received the FIPRESCI Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Other Bank (Georgia/Kazakhstan) directed by George Ovashvili and Anne Dorval received the FIPRESCI Award for Best Actress for her performance in I Killed My Mother (Canada) directed by Xavier Dolan. Commenting on the acting awards Stuart said, “Diminuitive non-professional star Tedo Bekhauri gives a quietly galvanizing portrayal of a 12-year-old refugee tossed to the winds by the Georgian-Abkhazia war. Anne Dorval was honored for her nuanced performance as a bruised and bruising matriarch mired in love/hate land with her teenage son
The New Voices/New Visions category features films from twelve new international directors whose first film has been selected by the Festival’s programming team to represent the best work of previously unheralded talents emerging in the narrative film making field with a particularly high standard of accomplishment and innovative technique. All films in the section are U.S. premieres without American distribution and were adjudicated by Arianna Bocco from IFC Films, Nancy Gerstman from Zeitgeist Films and Sara Rose from Apparition.
The jury selected A Brand New Life (South Korea/France) directed by Ounie Lecomte. It’s 1975. Jinhee is nine years old, and the life she knows is about to be shattered. Inexplicably abandoned by her father in a Catholic orphanage outside Seoul, Jinhee begins an extraordinary emotional journey marked by rage and hope, death and rebirth. The winner receives a Chihuly sculpture and a $60,000 Panavision camera package
Commenting on the award, the jury said, “We were unanimously impressed by the entire program of films in their scope and ambition and individual success in articulating a personal vision. Although a difficult decision, one film ultimately stood out for its accomplished vision of an emotional journey that was both powerful and heartbreaking, yet hopeful. This director’s skill in working with a young lead actress led to a visceral narrative that evoked childhood and loss and all of its vulnerabilities. We award the prize to Ounie Lecomte’s A Brand New Life.”
The New Voices/New Visions jury also added, “On a different note, we’d like to give an honorable mention to Devil’s Town directed by Vladimir Paskaljevic for his audacious and challenging satire of modern day Serbia. The film cleverly uses a national obsession with tennis to construct a world with strong characters where futility and hopelessness reign.”
Other films screened for this award were: Angel at Sea (Belgium/Canada), Beautiful Kate (Australia), A Brotherhood (Denmark), Heliopolis (Egypt), Huacho (Chile/France), La Pivellina (Austria/Italy), The Man Beyond the Bridge (India), Northless (Mexico/Spain), Nothing Personal (Netherlands/Ireland) and What You Don’t See (Germany/Austria).
Out of 67 feature or documentary film directing debuts, Haim Tabakman received the John Schlesinger Award for Outstanding First Feature (Narrative or Documentary) for the film Eyes Wide Open (Israel). The film is a taboo-breaking drama about a married butcher who falls in love with a seductive younger man in Jerusalem’s insular ultra-orthodox community. This honor, selected by the Festival programming team, acknowledges the work of a first-time filmmaker whose narrative or documentary feature represents particular distinction and the promise of a major filmmaking career. The winner receives a Kennedy Statue (“Entertainer”) and a DVD package provided by Facets Media.
Commenting on the selection Director of Programming Helen du Toit said, “The Festival was blessed to have 67 films by first-time directors in its line-up this year – each of them exceptional in its own right. Collectively, these films represented the flood of exciting new talent that is currently revitalizing the cinema worldwide, and choosing a ‘best’ or most worthy film to present this award to from among them has been one of the most difficult tasks we’ve faced as programmers this year. The award’s namesake, John Schlesinger, would have truly been heartened by the quality of filmmaking each of these films evince.”
The programmers also made two Special Mentions: Queen to Play (France) directed by Caroline Bottaro and Samson & Delilah (Australia) directed by Warwick Thornton’s
Letters to Father Jacob (Finland), directed by Klaus Härö, received the Bridging the Borders Award presented by Cinema Without Borders to the film that is the most successful in bringing the people of our world closer together.
Photos by Maya Hooshivar, CWB