Noted for its precise blend of glitz, prestige and an unerring ability to unearth fantastic foreign gems, the Palm Springs International Film Festival takes place each January in the California resort city of the same name.
Formed in 1989 by the non-profit organization the Palm Springs International Film Society, the festival’s goal since the outset has been to promote films and filmmakers (especially international works) to as wide an audience as possible while hoping to inspire, entertain and educate – and to further cinematic excellence in any language. 2015 saw it reach its 26th birthday, and the numbers would suggest it has attained its goal and then some: the most recent edition of the festival saw more than 136,000 attendees, with more than 180 films from over 70 countries screened across an 11-day program. The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFS) is now a firm favourite with cineastes and industry insiders alike and is one of the best-attended festivals in the country.
Due to its position on the festival calendar, Palm Springs has established itself as a hotly awaited early taste of Oscars glamour, with many of Hollywood’s big guns making their way to the Coachella Valley resort to tread the red carpet or leap up to the podium to collect a Silvered Piccolo Venetian trophy. The fest’s dazzling Awards Gala is the marquee event which bestows honours upon the best and brightest of the year; previous editions have seen director Danny Boyle and actor-turned-director Ben Affleck honoured, while in 2014 Sandra Bullock won for her performance in Gravity and Matthew McConaughey for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. For 2015 the list of honourees was especially impressive, with the likes of Richard Linklater receiving the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, Reese Witherspoon winning the Chairman’s Award, and multi-faceted actress Julianne Moore walking away with the prestigious Desert Palm Achievement Award.
Amongst the galas and gowns, there is the serious business of screening terrific movies and broadening the audience for some films which would otherwise never see the inside of a cinema in the US – and this is where Palm Springs really delivers. Its packed program has films from independent American filmmakers rubbing shoulders with big-budget international productions, but there is a particular focus on foreign-language films. The festival has been described as one of the best places to get those movies out to more viewers, and in recent years has screened over half of the films which were eventually submitted to the Oscars for that year’s foreign-language film prize.
To complement the main screening program and enrich the experience further, PSIFS has a large amount of supporting elements and events during the main fest including special presentations, parties and galas, secret screenings, student screening days, ‘dinner and a movie’ and for 2015 the introduction of the brand new ‘After Dark’ late-night program. Throughout the year they also run educational programs which include mentorships and internships, plus a catalogue of ‘Public Programs’ to help engage the local and film-loving communities, including book signings, filmmaker Q&As and the travelling short film program ‘One World’. And, just to add a little more to its cachet, the festival offshoot ‘The Palm Springs International Short Film Fest and Film Market’ – held each June – is one of only a handful of Oscar-qualifying short film festivals in the U.S.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival runs each January at various locations across the Californian city.