By Heidi Simmons

The 26th Annual Palm Spring International Film Festival wrapped up this week proving once again that cinema matters. Filmgoers filled every screening at five Palm Spring venues where 196 movies played over ten days.

From a dark seat in Palm Springs, attendees traveled the planet, dropping into exotic locations and colorful cultures like Bali, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania and Serbia. Stories from 52 countries filled viewer’s senses, stimulated ideas, provoked thinking and touched hearts. Safe in our desert oasis, filmgoers experienced the human condition from all around the world.

This is part of the mission by the Palm Springs International Film Society, the non-profit organization behind the Festival. At the PSIFF Awards Brunch, hosted by Spencer’s at the Mountain, Darryl Macdonald, Festival Director, poignantly summed up the PSIFF intent.

“It’s ironic,” Macdonald said after welcoming the crowd. “That while so many stories we’ve watched unfold on screen in this last week have been a source of enlightenment, a story unfolding a half a world away, in France, has been about the attempt to stifle our ability to express ourselves freely.”

Macdonald was referring to the murder of journalists, cartoonists and others at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

“It’s only fitting that even as we mourn the death of those who died defending freedom of expression in France, we celebrate the power of film here at home,” Macdonald said. “The power to illuminate our lives and open a window onto other worlds, provoking dialogue rather than division and offering knowledge rather than ignorance and fear. That’s a power much more potent than any amount of terror or intimidation.”

The audience felt the importance of Macdonald’s words. They got quiet and settled as the implication of what he said suddenly struck uniting everyone in the room. With all the fun and friendships made during the Festival, the audience was reminded of the essential need for free expression and the significance of filmmaking.

Macdonald continued with his sincere and genuine passion for film. He gave thanks for the power of film to entertain as well as illuminate. He acknowledged the joy, as well as the healthy benefits of laughter. Macdonald expressed his love for film saying, “Film provides engrossing forays into the world of art, music, literature and performance, making every art form available to the widest possible audience no matter where you live or what you can afford.”

Including the classic genre films in the Festival like thrillers, horror, romance and drama, Macdonald said these movies round out the riches that Festival attendees enjoyed over the last week and a half. The PSIFF takes great consideration choosing films and making the Festival experience both relevant and fun for the broadest audience demographic.

It is this commitment and deep appreciation for what film can do that makes the PSIFF one of the best film festivals in the world. Besides culling global cinematic treasures, the Film Society takes an interest in nurturing those who make the films by providing seminars and support. Respecting their efforts to make something meaningful, PSIFF is a friend to the filmmakers. And with a significant Palm Springs film community and its close proximity to Hollywood, the PSIFF is a favorite for filmmakers.

Yes, it is always fun to have celebrities come to Palm Springs like this year’s award winners Robert Duvall, Reese Witherspoon, Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore. It’s great to have name directors like Richard Linklater and Peter Bogdanovich attend. Even James Franco came for his movie Don Quixote: The Ingenious Gentlemen of La Mancha and Tom Hardy came for his wife Charlotte Riley’s film Grand Street.

With over 135,000 in attendance, the PSIFF is a success not only because of those who came but because it celebrates film as an important art form that can make a difference in our world.

Drive down Palm Canyon during the Festival where purple banners spread above the road and flank the village route announcing the PSIFF, and there is a sense of excitement and pride for residence and visitors alike. The film Festival is not just about big stars, but about big ideas.

The 27th Annual PSIFF will be held January 1st through the 11th, 2016. The Festival will host a New Year’s Eve celebration for all attending guests on December 31st at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival will begin on Friday, January 1st with all day screenings and the Opening Night screening followed by a reception at the Palm Springs Art Museum. The Awards Gala will be held on Saturday, January 2nd.