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Cinema’s United Nations in Palm Springs

Lots of festivals have “international” in their name, but don’t really mean it. Not so The Palm Springs International Film Festival, cinema’s answer to the UN.
PSIFF Director Darryl MacDonald
PSIFF assembles the films that have been nominated by their countries of origin as the year’s surest shot at winning a Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Festival’s 21st session, running January 5-18, 2010, will show more than 200 films from 60 countries. From rogue nations to close allies, much of the global community will vie in a juried competition decided by majority vote.

PSIFF also presents American independent and international films launching their world, North American or domestic premieres, as well as filmmaker tributes, industry seminars and cultural do’s.

The centerpiece of the Festival is its annual Awards Gala, which serves as “a precursor to the Golden Globes and Oscars,” per Festival Director Darryl Macdonald. Three of last year’s honorees – actor Anne Hathaway, director Gus Van Sant and composer Alexandre Desplat – were nominated for Academy Awards, and another, Sean Penn, took home Best Actor statuette.

Attendees of the January 5, 2010 black tie affair at The Palm Springs Convention Center can hope to rub shoulders with the likes of Mariah Carey, Anna Kendrick, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren. Carey will receive The Breakthrough Performance Award for her supporting role in Lee DanielsPrecious: Based on the Novel “Push” By Sapphire, while Kendrick’s performance in Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman, will land her The Rising Star Award. Freeman and Mirren will add The Career Achievement Award to their mantle of trophies, touting their respective star turns as Nelson Mandela in Invictus and as Countess Sofya Tolstoy in The Last Station, among a combined body of work spanning eight decades.

Aside from garnering for the Festival what Macdonald terms “credible attention,” the Gala also plumps its coffers. Last year’s swank soiree mobilized more than a million dollars for the desert jamboree founded in 1990 by then Mayor Sonny Bono. Ticket sales reportedly brought in another $1,126,900, and the Festival’s 15 plexes seated nearly 130,000 bottoms, 3% more than in 2008. Not bad for the toughest times since the Great Depression.

How is 2010 shaping up?

Though Festival passes are selling more briskly this year and sponsorship is holding steady, the mood remains “cautious,” said Macdonald. He cited the dramatic dip in ticket sales and sponsors incurred by the Seattle Film Festival, which he founded, and Sundance’s recent loss of wine and beer sponsors as but two examples of economic fallout on the festival circuit.  

Thanks to its strategic position in the annual film cycle, PSIFF serves as an oracle and a marketing tool for awards contenders. Consulates and film companies from around the world throw resources at it, from glitzy parties to glossy ads touting their submissions. Palm Springs is the last chance for members of the Foreign Oscar committees to catch an Academy-recognized screening.

Beyond the industry, film buffs come to the winter happening for its quality slate, balmy temperatures and resort atmosphere. “You’ve got warm weather and a lot of decent pictures to see,” said film critic Harlan Jacobson, who leads festival tours to Palm Springs through his national cinema forum, Talk Cinema. “It’s the official summation of the year that has just ended…and of what’s headed to that Oscar gateway,” he continued.

Films that come to PSIFF 2010 amid quickened whispers include:

Argentina’s The Secret of Their Eyes, a thriller by Juan Jose Campanella about a man trying to crack a murder case gone 30-years-cold, and South Africa’s White Wedding, a post-apartheid road comedy by Jann Turner in Afrikaans, English, Zulu and Xhosa.

From Peru, there’s Claudia Llosa’s The Milk of Sorrow, which took The Golden Bear at The Berlin Film Festival for its fable of rape and trauma.

Berlin’s Silver Bear went to suspense drama About Elly, Iran’s official submission directed by Asghar Farhadi. Terribly Happy also carries advanced buzz.

Henrik Ruben Genz did Denmark proud when his stylish noir flick bagged The Grand Prix Crystal Globe at The Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Australia’s official Oscar submission is Walpiri-language Samson & Delilah.

The debut feature by indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton won The Camera d’Or at Cannes.

According to Macdonald, PSIFF will celebrate Australia’s “standout” year with a special showcase of the country’s emerging directors. “One of the tasks we set ourselves is the discovery of new talents who have a fresh voice in storytelling,” said Macdonald, adding that more than 50 of this year’s films are by first-time directors.   

As the globe shrinks, are Americans becoming more – or less – drawn to the sort of international fare shown at Palm Springs? “Festival audiences by and large have a higher gross income, and are interested in exploring the universe,” noted Macdonald. Translation: PSIFF may be one of North America’s largest festivals, but it’s no gauge of mainstream enthusiasm for subtitles.

For more info got to:

Palm Springs International Film Festival
Jan. 5 - 18, 2010
Opening Night Black Tie Awards Gala
Palm Springs Convention Center
277 North Avenida Caballeros
Palm Springs, CA 92262

General Screenings

Various Locations TBD

Closing Night 

Palm Springs High School
2401 East Baristo Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Palm Springs International Film Society
1700 East Tahquitz Canyon Way, Suite #3

Palm Springs, CA 92262 

Phone:  760 322 2930

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

MoMA to Feature Lithuanian Films from 1990 to 2009

When Lithuania regained its independence on March 1990, state funding for filmmaking reduVortex. 2009. Lithuania.ced significantly and directors had to turn to the smaller studios that had emerged. Lithuanian filmmakers continued to push on, releasing numerous distinguished works exploring themes of identity — both personal and national  — despite the limitations they faced.

The Museum of Modern Art will be exploring these last 20 years of fiction and nonfiction Lithuanian features and short films. Lithuanian Cinema: 1990-2009 is the first U.S. survey of films from this Baltic republic and will screen at the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at the MoMA from Dec. 4 through Dec. 13, 2009.

Some Lithuanian filmmakers have earned international reputations, including Sarunas Bartas; Arunas Matelis, who was awarded the Directors Guild of America Best Documentary Filmmaker award in 2007 for Before Flying Back to Earth; and Jonas Mekas, whose creative and organizational activity in the U.S. has been essential to American independent filmmaking. Other filmmakers like Raimundas Banionis and the team of Romas Lileikis and Stasys Motiejunas, whose films appeared early in the “liberation” of Lithuanian cinema, deserve to be better known abroad — as do Kristina Buozyte (The Collectress) and Gytis Luksas (Vortex), both of whom will have their American premieres.

All films are from Lithuania and in Lithuanian with English subtitles, unless otherwise noted. Tickets for the screenings are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for full-time students. Admission is free for MoMA members and museum ticketholders.


Dec. 4
4 p.m.
  — Vaikai is ‘Amerikos viesbucio’ (Children from “Hotel America”)
directed by Raimundas Banionis
In Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, a group of young people listen to prohibited Western music and surreptitiously attempt to create a Woodstock of their own.

7 p.m.  — Trys dienos (Three Days)
directed by Sarunas Bartas
Two friends from Lithuania travel to Soviet Kaliningrad, hoping to find companionship in an allied state. Bartas will be present at the Dec. 4 screening to introduce the film.

Dec. 5
1 p.m. — Two award-winning documentaries
Pries parskrendant i zeme (Before Flying Back to Earth)
directed by Arunas Matelis
Matelis’s daughter was treated for leukemia in a children’s ward in Vilnius. After her release, the filmmaker returned to record the lives and dreams of the children who remained.

Zmogus arklys (Man-Horse)
directed by Audrius Mickevicius
Seasons and regimes change, but an elderly farmer remains tied to his faithful horse.

5:30 p.m.  — Namas (The House)
directed by Sarunas Bartas
Might a house — strangely situated, curiously occupied, both welcoming and frightening — be a metaphor for an entire nation?

6 p.m.  — Trys dienos (Three Days)
See description under Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.
8 p.m.  — Kolekcioniere (The Collectress)
directed by Kristina Buozyte
When a respected pediatrician suddenly finds that she cannot experience any emotions unless she is utterly humiliated, her desire to feel leads to ever more desperate measures.

Dec. 6
1 p.m.  — As esu (I Am)
directed by Romas Lileikis and Stasys Motiejunas
A young boy with a vivid imagination witnesses social changes that he cannot understand.

3 p.m.  — Six Lithuanian shorts
10 minuciu pres Ikaro skrydi (10 Minutes before the Flight of Icarus)
directed by Arunas Matelis
Documentary about Uzupis, a special neighborhood in Vilnius

Earth of the Blind (Neregiu zeme)
directed by Audrius Stonys
Short film explores the inner world of the blind.
Spring (Pavasaris)

directed by Valdas Navasaitis
An old man lives in a frequently flooded area.

Vilkas (The Wolf)

directed by Julius Ziz
A man is taken to be executed.

Gyveno senelis ir bobute (Grandpa and Grandma)

directed by Giedre Beinoriute
Beinoriute investigates her grandparents’ exile to Siberia in 1948.

The Window

directed by Julius Ziz
The filmmaker gives another perspective of looking at the world.
5 p.m. 
— Two award-winning documentaries
See description under Dec. 5 at 1 p.m.

Dec. 7
4:30 p.m.  —   Kolekcioniere (The Collectress)
See description under Dec. 5 at 8 p.m.

Dec. 9

4 p.m.  — As esu (I Am)
See description under Dec. 6 at 1 p.m.

6:15 p.m.
  — Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR
Directed by Jonas Mekas
Using a video camera to film news broadcasts from his television screen, Mekas recorded the rocky and dramatic transition from Lithuania's declaration of independence in March 1990 to its induction into the United Nations in September 1991.

Dec. 10
4 p.m. 
— Six Lithuanian shorts
See description under Dec. 6 at 3 p.m.

Dec. 11

7 p.m.Duburys (Vortex)
directed by Gytis Luksas
An exquisite black-and-white chronicle of a young man’s shifting relationships as he adjusts rather dramatically to the unfamiliarity of freedom.

Dec. 12
1 p.m.  — Namas (The House)
See description under Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m.

3:15 p.m. 
Duburys (Vortex)
See description under Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.

Dec. 13

12:30 p.m.  — Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR
See description under Dec. 9 at 6:15 p.m.

Dec. 14

7 p.m.  — Vaikai is ‘Amerikos viesbucio’ (Children from “Hotel America”)
See description under Dec. 4 at 4 p.m.

For more information, check out:

Lithuanian Cinema: 1990-2009
The Museum of Modern Art

11 West 53rd Street, New York City
Dec. 4 to Dec. 13, 2009

Spanish Cinema Now 09

A country wealthy with such cinematic treasures as Pedro Almodovar, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem. The series that helped introduce them to New York City audiences -- Spanish Cinema Now -- again takes place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater from

From Opening Night’s taut, gripping jailhouse thriller Cell 211 to the deliciously comic Mediterranean Food to V.O.S., a sophisticated meditation on the romantic comedy, this year’s series continues a tradition of serving up bold, provocative fare from the brightest lights in contemporary Spanish cinema.

Special guests expected to appear during the series include:


  • Jaume Balaguero ([Rec]2)
  • Daniel Monzón (Cell 211)
  • Daniel Sánchez Arevalo (Gordos)

and actors:

  • Elena Anaya (Hierro)
  • Unax Ugalde (The Good News)
  • Antonio de la Torre (Gordos)

And on Saturday, December 5, from 4:30-5:30pm in the Furman Gallery adjacent the Walter Reade patrons, members and SCN ticket holders can enjoy a free panel discussion on titled Spanish Cinema Now... And Tomorrow, with FSLC Program Director Richard Peña and General Director of the Spanish Film Institute (ICAA) Ignasi Guardans Cambo, (which is part of the Ministry of Culture) who is also a member of the European Parliament. They will discuss the current state and future of Spain's vibrant cinematic scene.

On Saturday, December 12th, A Taster Of Spain will take place including screenings of three feature films, seven shorts, Spanish wines and cheeses -- all for the affordable price of $30 (public)/$25 (senior)/$20 (member/student).

Every film in the series can be seen for for one affordable price at any screening that fits your schedule with an All Access Pass: $99 public; $89 senior (62+); $79 member/student.

The pass can be purchased online or at the box office. Certain restrictions apply.

Spanish Cinema Now
December 4-20, 2009
Walter Reade Theater
Lincoln Center

Sundance Checklist: US Narrative Competition

What's a film festival without prizes? Getting a Sundance Film Festival award may not get quite the attention of the Oscars or even the Golden Globes with network TV broadcasts and such but that accolade usually marks the beginning of a film's march towards good reviews, distribution, and a career marker for directors, producers cast and crew. While even the selection (and that laurel leaf sticker) here is usually enough for the filmmakers to get their films into other festivals and, eventually cable TV, getting the actual prize will guarantee it.

This year’s 16 films were selected from 1,058 (!) submissions. That's a lot of rejections. With a record like that, every single agent and distributor in Hollywood look at these very closely. Each film is a World Premiere, so no one has seen it other than the selection committee, the filmmakers and their friends and families.

In the past, films like Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009) or American Splendor (2003) wouldn't have been able to make a profit, much less become genuine hits at the box office without this award. There’s Oscar® gold to be found here.

Of the films listed below, several seem like shoo-ins for attention and distribution. So let me throw my hat into the ring as a picker of contenders. For just seeing Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams together, Blue Valentine should marshall a buzz. Hesher is another one driven by the great cast. The idea of Holy Rollers should command attention especially from those reviewers and industry insiders from the Jewish community who are into both the mitzvot and psychedelics. As for Howl; the very idea of James Franco as Allen Ginsberg makes it a must-see. Another quick-pick is Deborah Granik's latest

The contestants are:

Blue Valentine
Director - Derek Cianfrance
Screenwriters - Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis
Cast - Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, John Doman
World Premiere
Blue Valentine is the story of love found and love lost told in past and present moments in time. Flooded with romantic memories of their courtship, Dean and Cindy use one night to try and save their failing marriage. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this honest portrait of a relationship on the rocks.
Director - Drake Doremus
Screenwriters - Lindsay Stidham, Drake Doremus, Jonathan Schwartz and Andrew Dickler
Cast - Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones, Marguerite Moreau, Nicole Vicius, Amy Ferguson, Wendi McClendon-Covey
World Premiere
The week Sam Nussbaum is to be married, his fiancée questions why his only brother, Tom, isn’t coming to the wedding. Unsatisfied with his lame reply, she surprises Sam by bringing the brothers together. Sam is not happy, but he rarely is—unless he’s telling someone what to do. When it’s revealed that Tom has only been in love once—with his fifth-grade girlfriend—Sam insists they go find her. It soon becomes evident that their journey is simply an excuse for Sam to avoid his impending commitment.
The Dry Land
Director and screenwriter - Ryan Piers Williams
Cast: America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, June Diane Raphael, Melissa Leo.
World Premiere
A U.S. soldier returning home from war struggles to reconcile his experiences abroad with the life and family he left in Texas.
Director and screenwriter Josh Radnor
Cast: Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber, Michael Algieri.
World Premiere
Six New Yorkers negotiate love, friendship, and gratitude at a time when they're too old to be precocious and not ready to be adults.

Director: Spencer Susser
Screenwriters: Spencer Susser and David Michod; Story by Brian Charles Frank
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch.
World Premiere
A mysterious, anarchical trickster descends on the lives of a family struggling to deal with a painful loss.
Holy Rollers
Director: Kevin Tyler Asch; Screenwriter: Antonio Macia
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny A. Abeckaser, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs
World Premiere
A young Hasidic man, seduced by money, power and opportunity, becomes an international Ecstasy smuggler.
Directors and screenwriters Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Cast: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels.
World Premiere
A nonfiction drama about the young Allen Ginsberg finding his voice, the creation of his groundbreaking poem HOWL, and the landmark obscenity trial that followed.

The Imperialists are still Alive!
Director and screenwriter Zeina Durra
Cast: Élodie Bouchez, José María de Tavira, Karim Saleh Karolina Muller, Marianna Kulukundis, Rita Ackerman.
World Premiere
Juggling the sudden abduction of her childhood sweetheart as well as a blooming love affair, a French Manhattanite makes her way as an artist in an indifferent, sometimes hostile world.
Lovers of Hate
Director and screenwriter Bryan Poyser
Cast: Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky, Zach Green.
World Premiere
In this delicious tale of deceit and sibling rivalry, two adult brothers, Rudy (Doubek) and Paul (Karpovsky), represent failure and success. Younger brother Paul is a successful author who writes Harry Potter-like fantasy novels, while Rudy, Paul’s childhood collaborator on the stories, moves from job to job, unable to get started on his own novel – the long-gestating Lovers of Hate.  The one thing they do have in common is their love for Diana (Kafka), Rudy’s soon-to-be ex-wife. When opportunistic Paul whisks Diana away to a romantic mountain retreat (in Park City, Utah, incidentally), the lovers have no idea that Rudy has made it there first.
Night Catches Us
Director and screenwriter Tanya Hamilton
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce, Jamara Griffin.
World Premiere
Marcus (Mackie) returns to the Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement, protecting a dangerous secret in a struggle against the revolution he once embraced and rediscovering a forbidden love (Washington).
Director and screenwriter Diane Bell
Cast: Gaynor Howe, Michael Piccirilli, Frank Hoyt Taylor
World Premiere
A lonely librarian believes love is obsolete until a road trip to Death Valley with a beguiling cinema projectionist teaches him otherwise.
Director Anthony Burns; Screenwriters Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, A.J. Buckley, Ashley Greene, Brett Cullen, Ellen Hollman, Heath Freeman
World Premiere

In the early 1980s, in small-town Texas, dramatic events force a 19-year-old skating rink manager to look at his life in a very new way.
Sympathy for Delicious
Director - Mark Ruffalo; Screenwriter Christopher Thornton
Cast - Orlando Bloom, Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney, John Carroll Lynch.
World Premiere

A newly paralyzed DJ gets more than he bargained for when he seeks out the world of faith healing.
3 Backyards
Director and screenwriter - Eric Mendelsohn
Cast - Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe, Danai Gurira.
World Premiere
A quiet suburban town becomes an intense emotional terrain for three residents over the course of one curious autumn day.
Welcome to the Rileys
Director -  Jake Scott
Cast - James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo.
World Premiere
In  Scott's Welcome to the Rileys the lives of Doug and Lois Riley (Gandolfini and Leo) have been derailed by the loss of their daughter eight years ago. While at a business convention in New Orleans Doug encounters Mallory (Stewart), a young woman working in a strip club struggling to survive, who unexpectedly compels the Rileys to reclaim their marriage. 
Winter’s Bone
Director - Debra Granik; Screenwriters - Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
Cast - Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan.
World Premiere
An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.


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