Smack dab in the middle of the festival circuit and just before the Awards Season craziness is under way, you have the Palm Springs Film Festival. Just a short two hour drive from L.A., the festival is close enough to attract A-list celebs yet far enough to maintain the quaint dessert vacation feel for which this city has become known. The festival, now in its 23rd year, has surely earned the respect of the industry and the prestige that normally goes to its cousins Sundance & Cannes.
The festival kicked off with an opening night gala that included Hollywood favorites George Clooney (and girlfriend Stacey Keibler), Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Tom Hanks, and Michelle Williams. Set in the Coachella Valley (between the San Bernardino and Santa Rosa Mountains) and amongst the palm trees, golf courses, and endless sea of swimming pools, the stars walked the red carpet chatting with reporters and practicing their best poses for the coming weeks.
The opening Black Tie Awards Gala took place at the Palm Springs Convention Center and was hosted by Mary Hart (TV’s longest running anchor, Entertainment Tonight). The awards were many and are often seen as predictors of Oscar nominations to come. Pitt recieved the Desert Palm Achievement Award, presented to him by his Moneyball co-star Jonah Hill, for his work this year on that film and the highly acclaimed Tree of Life. He was introuced by his long-time friend Clooney and the two entertained on-stage with their usual antics. Known jokester Clooney even teased Pitt about his two-time Sexiest Man Alive status…eluding it as a factor in his selection.
Other notable awards included: Breakthrough Perofrmance to Octavia Spencer (The Help), Spotlight Award to Jessica Chastain (presented by Al Pacino who called her his ‘prodigy’ for roles in The Help, The Debt, Tree of Life, & Take Shelter), Director of the Year to Stephen Daldry (presented by Tom Hanks for Exremely Loud & Incredibly Close), Chairman’s Award to George Clooney (The Descendants & Ides of March), Career Acheivement Award to Glenn Close (presented by Jeff Goldblum for Albert Nobbs & too many great flicks to name), Desert Palm Achievement Award to Michelle Williams (presented by Kenneth Branagh for My Week With Marilyn). Vanguard Award for Creative Ensemble to Patton Oswalt, Jason Reitman, and Diablo Cody (presented by Olivia Wilde for Young Adult), and the Sonny Bono Visionary Award to director Michal Hazanavicius (The Artist).
The week and a half long festival (Jan 5-16th) features more than 200 films from 70 countries and over 450 screenings. The festival has certainly grown in size and stature since its inception in 1989 when Sonny Bono was acting mayor of Palm Springs and started the festival as a way to revitalize the local economy and glamorize the image of this desert oasis as Hollywood’s best kept hideaway.
Other stars on hand with recent awards buzz included Bridesmaids Melissa McCarthy, and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’s Gary Oldman.
The rest of the week saw countless screenings with amazing work in all categories but the winners were as follows:
Mercedes Benz Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature- Starbuck
Audience Award Best Documentary Feature – The Girls in the Band tied with Wish Me Away (who knew you could tie!)
FIPRESCI Award for Best Foreign Language Film – The Turin Horse
FIPRESCI Award for Best Actor- Matthias Schoenaerts (for Bullhead)
FIPRESCI Award for Best Acttress went to the ensemble female cast- Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi (for A Separation)
New Voices/New Visions Awards- The House
The John Schlesinger Award- The Tiniest Place
HP Bridging the Borders Award- Terraferma
For more information on the winners and festival news please visit Palm Springs Film Festival.