Palm Springs International Film Festival will open on January 3rd and continue through January 14th. PSIFF has consistently proven to be a fantastic platform for international film exhibition, as well as an outstanding event for international film fans within the U.S. and abroad. Last week, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Darryl Macdonald, Director of the festival, and discussing the ins-and-outs of the 2013 PSIFF.
Bijan Tehrani: Every year there is a new trend at festivals, what are the trends that you see in the films coming to the festival this year?
Darryl Macdonald: I think the overriding trend that is emerging is the diversity in the themes and genres, and almost the abandonment of genres to a certain extent in many of the films in the festival. The real overriding theme for us as a group of programmers is the emergence of so many new talented directors. A third of the films in the lineup are by first-time filmmakers and the quality of those first-time films is staggeringly good. Again we are truly blessed to have this sheer amount of existing new talent emerging in the world of international cinema: it signals to me a kind of rebirth of filmmaking worldwide and just a lot of new voices and new visions that are using the cinematic language to tell their story. I don’t think I have seen this concentration of new talent and I am talking about countries and regions all around the world.
BT: How is the presence of international cinema at the 2013 festival?
DM: It’s always been our mainstay, it is primarily what we are about. This year there are 68 countries represented in the festival lineup, forty-two of the submissions for the Oscar for best foreign language film are highlighted in the festival but as always there are certain regions of the world where we are seeing striking new films and new filmmakers emerging. As always, we take note of that and put special notice on those particular areas, there is always going to be great cinema presumably emerging out of Spain, out of France, out of Italy, out of England and Australia, but I guess for us the exciting thing every year is to see countries that we haven’t seen before suddenly joining the fray and new talents from those countries making really striking provocative films. Really film festivals are always a journey of discovery and one of the exciting thing about participating in a film festival is to see films that you have heard nothing about and seeing films from places you are not used to seeing films from, discovering new directors and new voices that have something new or different to say and say it in a new way and this year’s lineup with our first-time directors and 30 other filmmakers making their second feature films, we have those new fresh voices in abundance. There is really no one region that you can point to… actually I will take that back, we are actually seeing great films from the Nordic countries: Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, just a lot of new directorial and acting talent as well as screenwriting talent has emerged from the Nordic Countries. I am also excited that we got films this year from countries like Nairobi and Bulgaria and again areas of the world and countries of the world where people are not always lucky enough to have the opportunity to see a representation of that culture on the screen.
BT: Please tell us about the guests that will be attending the festival?
DM: As always we will have filmmakers from all over the world. At this point we are about only halfway through with our lineup of guests but we have made a particular effort to bring a large number of these newly emerging filmmakers to the festival this year to share their thoughts on this art form and the particular films they have made, as always, at a large number of the screenings at Palm Springs this year, and we will also have new young filmmakers on hand to engage in Q&A with the audiences immediately following the screenings.
BT: Palm Springs International Film Festival always has amazing events and galas, what should we expect at 2013 festival?
DM: We have Peter Greenaway coming in for the North American premiere of his new film Goltzius and the Pelican Company. Peter Greenway is the provocateur who has turned so many heads with his incredibly audacious and daring films like The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, Drowning by Numbers, The Draughtsman’s Contract, The Pillow Book and many others. As one of our talking pictures programs, Peter will also be doing a program called the Death of Cinema who is asking the question of whether or not contemporary cinema’s reliance on text is making a populace of visual illiterates; it is an amazing and fascinating program, that includes clips down through the decades and it really engages the audience to have another perspective on cinema and he is one of the most brilliant filmmakers on the planet so having the opportunity to do this with him at the festival is something I am really excited about. What’s interesting about his focus on how text has replaced the visual language of film is that number of films in the festival seem to reflect that same sentiment.
For the first time I can remember the festival is featuring two wonderful silent films: we are opening of course with Blancanieves which is a silent retelling of the Snow White story – at least it takes off from that point – and it utilizes very few title cards, the story is completely told visually in gorgeous black and white visuals, I might mention it’s enthralling. That is accompanied by Sadourni’s Butterflies, of which we are doing the North American premiere here at the festival and it is done by a terrific new young filmmaker named Dario Nardi from Argentina and again it is mostly silent, it is in black and white and it tells a totally different kind of story: it is about a dwarf who is involved in a crime of passion and does his time in jail and then when he is finally released he finds himself entering into a world that he is ill prepared to fit into. Both of these films are engaging and engrossing and really use the visual of the medium to tell an effective story.
I also mentioned The Fifth Season, a totally different kind of film from Belgium which is about the people from a small village who find themselves in kind of a strange no man’s land where they do their annual rite or ceremony celebrating the end of winter; only winter never ends and in the course of the film we watch what happens to those people and the way they interact with each other and with the natural universe in this strange world where winter does not turn into spring and spring does not turn into fall; again it is totally engrossing and it is brilliantly made, I think it is one of the best films of the year and nobody should miss it. So all of those films compliment Peter Greenaway’s thesis which shall be presented at the festival in really creative and wonderful ways.
Also a new program that we are doing at the festival this year is a film review and criticism workshop, with Boyd van Hoeij who is a writer for many publications and a reviewer for European Variety. He will basically be doing a program on how to read a film and how to develop critical skills, and as a special part of the program we are doing a screening of The Shining and the documentary about the Shining and the various theories that revolve around it. You can attend the screenings or just take a part in the workshop, we will also be serving Red Rum cocktails across the street at a new restaurant in town and then we will head back for the second feature in the program. So there are programs that really engage you in the language of film and things to look for that you might not normally even notice in the images you are seeing as you are watching a film, we will be having some other special guest as well. For instance Alan Cumming is engaging in a conversation on stage with Jeremy Kay. Alan Cumming is of course a brilliant actor, he changes his physical persona and voice to fit any role that he is playing. Alan is nothing if not outspoken, brilliant and very amusing. We start a number of the talking pictures program with the current feature by the filmmaker. In Alan Cumming’s case we will be showing Any Day Now which won the audience award at the L.A. Outfest Festival, the Chicago Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and number of other festivals, in which he plays Rudy Donatello, a drag singer in 70s Los Angeles who inadvertently ends up adopting a young boy with down syndrome. It’s a wonderful and moving film and I love that it will be complimented by an opportunity to listen and indeed ask questions to Alan Cumming on stage after it .
BT: Palm Springs International Film Festival is among a few festivals in the world where all its screenings are always sold out, what are the venues for the screenings of the films this year?
DM: We hope to leave some of that congestion! Yes indeed, this is one of the three top attended film festivals in the country; that being said we are taking steps to alleviate that this year. Actually there is room at almost every screening: while advance tickets may be sold out, there will be rush tickets at the door. As word of mouth gets out at the festival and films become festival hits we start to see more sold-out screenings, this year we are committed to doing 3rd screenings as opposed to the two screenings of each film that we have done in the past. In some cases we are doubling up auditoriums, we have 15 screens throughout Palm Springs and it’s easy to get back and forth between. We try to provide enough time between screenings and we also have a shuttle bus service, and we try to provide more seats for audiences for each of the screenings.
BT: The festival has turned Palm Springs into a city of art cinema and has created a friendly mood between filmmakers and film fans, what role do you think city of Palm Springs has played into the success of the festival?
DM: We made an effort to create a festival village where restaurants and theatres are close together and filmmakers themselves are able to walk around the festival and we also have major receptions almost every night of the festival. You can run into the filmmakers between films, at restaurants or at the nightly receptions and also at the Q&A’s following the festivals.
BT: What awards are being given this year?
DM: We have our audience award for best narrative feature and documentary feature. We have our John Schlesinger Award for best first-time documentary feature and this year we have 38 documentaries in the film festival line up. We have our New Voices New Visions Award which is presented to the narrative feature film feature and we have 10 directors who we think made really exceptional directorial debuts and those films are all making their US premieres at the festival: we have a jury for that selection to name one of the best new directors at the festival. And for a number of years, we have had the Bridging the Borders Award sponsored by your own fine website and HP, focusing on films that really through cinematic language bring people of the world closer together by understanding each other better and it is a great blend of culture and community.