2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival will open on January 3rd and continue through January 13th. 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 2014 PSIFF.
Bijan Tehrani: We are getting close to the 2014 Palm Springs International Festival and it is always exciting for international film lovers! What should we expect to see this year?
Darryl Macdonald: It is similar to past years; we are having a broad spectrum of international cinema—there are roughly 188 films participating in the festival—and amongst those about 77 films are marking their North American or US premiers here at the festival. There will be roughly 50 films by debuting filmmakers who are bringing their first films to the festival and this year is an incredibly exciting year because it is a very strong year for international films. This year, we have had some really smart and solid filmmaking and great stories worldwide and, again, we are seeing an emergence of really striking new directorial voices around the world this year in really strong ways—a far larger number than normal.
BT: Have you seen a change in the subjects of the films? Are foreign films trying to appeal to a wider audience?
DM: This I will say, on the one hand, one thing that really stands out about international films this year is that we have so many films and many of them are action crime movies. There is a much less reliance on genre filmmaking this year and the films are much more personal. They’re are much more character based or character driven, rather than genre driven. That being said, I think the films in general tend to be dealing with sensual pleasure: whether it is food or music or romantic pursuits. On the other hand we are also seeing a lot more films that deal with the effect of technology on everyday people, sometime for better and sometimes for worse. Those are two distinct themes that run through a number of films in the festival and they stand out for that reason, but in general it is safe to say this year that the storytelling itself is much richer because it is more personal, it is more engaging—it is easier to get involved in the stories and get swept away by the characters rather than relying on plot devices and genres.
BT: I understand that people who want to see the films submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar consideration will have a chance to see them at the festival.
DM: Indeed, we are presenting 45 of the 76 official submissions for the foreign language Oscar. We used to be Completists and try to play every film that was submitted, but we made the conscious decision three or four years ago to really focus on the ones that we feel have a serious chance of getting a nomination. It is an indication of how strong a year it is in cinema that we could not cut it down to more than 45. I should point out: at last year’s festival, eleven films that are on this year’s list of submissions played at our last festival in January, so we had to make a conscious choice there about whether or not to replay these films. Out of those eleven films, we selected five of them because they are bound to be frontrunners at the Oscars this year.
BT: Will filmmakers be attending the festival?
DM: Absolutely! We have them coming in from all over the world: Africa, Asia, The Middle East, certainly Latin and South America in general and western Europe as well. And of course we are doing a special focus on Canadian films this year. Telefilm Canada, one of the major funding organizations in Canada, is bringing in 10 or 15 filmmakers for that showcase. They will attend and, of course, engage in Q&A’s with the audience. We will have the director’s retreat after that, where we take filmmakers on a two day retreat and allow them to share their battle stories and give input and advice.
BT: What type of events should we expect to see this year?
DM: We will have our ever-popular Talking Pictures program, which involves some of the directors and stars who had a hand in some of these major films on stage in some one-on-one interviews with major journalists from around America, and that is always thrown open to the audience as well for Q&A, but at this point we have not released the names for this year’s Talking Pictures program.
BT: How is the presence of American independent films at the festival this year?
DM: Actually, it is slightly higher that it has been in the past. We have some very strong work from the American independent film industry. Normally this is a festival that focuses first-and-foremost on international cinema and films from outside of the U.S., but again we have had a number of exceptional works submitted to us this year and there is no way that we could ignore them. One in particular is called Medeas, which won the best director prize at the Marrakesh film festival—it will make its North American debut here at the festival. There is also our True Stories section of the festival, where we have many documentaries with fascinating stories to tell.
BT: Which awards will be presented at the festival this year?
DM: We have a variety of awards each year, including our New Voices and New Visions section, and also our Documentary competition and the Mercedes Benz audience awards. We will also have HP’s Bridging the Borders Award, courtesy of Cinema without Borders.