The 24th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) gets underway Thursday night with an Opening Night Gala Screening of Blancanieves at Palm Springs High School.
This year’s festival features 180 films from 68 countries, plus special events, Gala screenings, Talking Picture programs, secret screenings, and international parties. Actors Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Richard Gere, Helen Mirren, Naomi Watts, Bradley Cooper, Helen Hunt, Sally Field, along with Directors Tom Hooper and Robert Zemeckis, and Composer Mychael Danna, will walk the red carpet and be honored Saturday night at the Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center.
Darryl Macdonald has been PSIFF Executive Director for the past 10 years, and served as Director of Programming the first four years of the festival. With the countdown ticking for this year’s festival, Macdonald graciously shared his thoughts on the past, present and future of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
How has the PSIFF evolved and changed during the past 10-15 years?
We’re closer than we’ve ever been to achieving all the ambitions we collectively had when the festival first got started. Certainly the size of the festival in terms of both the number of films and the size of its audience has grown enormously over the last two decades. In terms of programming priorities, it hasn’t really changed. It’s always been a festival about discovery. The longer the festival has run, though, the more we’ve been able to get the films we want, and get the filmmakers we want to share with audiences.
Certainly the Awards Gala in the last decade has really become a major force within the Hollywood firmament in the sense that it attracts the biggest stars, directors and creative talents in the business, as few other festivals can. The festival has gained clout and respect amongst the American film industry and the film industry worldwide.
What are you most excited about with this year’s festival?
I’m excited about a lot of things. First of all, the opening and closing night films - Blancanieves (Spain) and Unfinished Song (United Kingdom). I can’t wait to see the audience response to them because I think they’re perfect bookends to the festival and between them, sum up everything this festival is about.
I’m also excited about our Talking Pictures programs. The line-up has gotten stronger and stronger and more interesting with each succeeding year. The caliber and the quality of the filmmakers, actors, actresses, writers and directors that we’ve had on stage for really intensive discussions about their careers and filmmaking has been incredible.
I probably say this every year… but I really do feel like this year’s programming over all is the strongest and most diverse we’ve ever had and I’m more excited about this year’s line-up than I remember ever being.
What are a few of your favorite films this year?
I’ve got so many. On the one hand, I’m delighted to present what I consider to be huge crowd pleasures like English Vinglish (India), to celebrated international hits like this year’s Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or award winner, Amour (Austria), which is, I think, probably my personal favorite film of the year. And there’s Rust and Bone (France/Belgium) which has two great performances at its core (Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts). There are also broadly exceptional English language films like Still (Canada) starring James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold, which is an amazing film kind of akin in some ways to Amour, and Emperor (Japan) with Tommy Lee Jones. I could go on and on!
What I’m most excited about is the wide range of programming and the overall quality of the individual films at this year’s festival.
What is your vision for the festival for the next five years?
In terms of the next five years, the easiest way to put it is, more of the same. By more, I don’t necessarily mean more movies, but I would hope that it continues to grow in terms of its affect on filmmaking worldwide, providing a springboard for exceptional new talents to further their careers in the film industry and bringing audiences even more opportunities to see the filmmakers they’re interested in, as well as discover new talents. The longer you stay at it, and as long as you maintain the quality that you’ve had in the past, the opportunities grow.
Certainly we have other aims for the festival. One is becoming more film industry oriented in the sense of creating a casual film market – I’m not talking about a formal film market like you find at Cannes or Berlin – but more film business going on, i.e. more film sales and acquisitions going on at the festival.
Also, hopefully, to expand the audience for exceptional cinema and international cinema in the U.S. because right now… fewer and fewer foreign films are making it in the U.S. market or being picked up by distributors. We would like to have a more profound impact on the course of that.
On a personal note, what was your first film experience that got you hooked on cinema?
Oh, that’s easy. When my parents took me to see Bonnie and Clyde. I mean, I saw Bambi like everyone else and I bawled all the way through it, but I didn’t realize the power of cinema until my parents took me - when I was 12 years old; I don’t know what they were thinking - to see Bonnie and Clyde. I was transfixed during the entire film. For days and even weeks after, I was really disturbed as well, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was and finally in one of those light bulb moments, I realized up until then I had only seen the world in simple terms of black and white, good and evil, and seeing Bonnie and Clyde turned me on to the fact that we live in a world that is much more complex than the world I had been seeing through my own eyes up until then. It really opened my mind to questioning everything that I assumed in life and made me want to see more films, and movies in particular that challenged my assumptions or took me places that I hadn’t been before. So it changed my life in many ways.
24th Palm Springs International Film Festival
January 3 – 14
Festival Ticket & Information Center
- 777 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Unit 113, Palm Springs
January 4-13 - Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
January 14 - 9:00 a.m. to Noon
800-898-7256 – 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Festival Lounge & Box Office
- Courtyard of Palm Springs
789 E. Tahquitz Canyon, Suite 113
Ticket & Event Pricing
- General Admission - $12
- Matinee (before 3:00 p.m.) - $11
- International Gala Film Screenings - $13
- Talking Pictures Programs - $25
- Festival International Parties - $25
- Opening Night Gala - $60
- Closing Night Gala - $50