By Heidi Simmons

It’s that wonderful time of year when the stars descend and movie buffs arrive to celebrate cinema. The 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival begins on January 2 and runs through the 12th. Over the 10 days, 192 films from 65 countries will show in four different venues on 14 different screens. Attendees are expected to number more than 135,000 valley visitors.

“This year’s lineup is particularly noteworthy not only for the overall excellence of the 190 plus films included, but for the extraordinary quality of storytelling involved,” said Darryl Macdonald, Festival Director. “In this era of mega-blockbusters, filmmakers worldwide seem to be reacting by eschewing traditional genres and formats in favor of innovative and audacious new approaches to storytelling, with newly emerging talents from regions like Eastern Europe, the Arab countries and Latin America leading the charge.”

One of the largest film festivals in North America, the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) celebrates foreign films, documentaries and new industry voices. With movies from all over the world, this is a festival filled with a multitude of cinematic treasures.

The 87th Academy Awards are just around the corner and the PSIFF is the first award program of the year. It will certainly generate a buzz about potential nominations for stars, filmmakers and movies.

Opening Night features Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay and stars David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The timing could hardly be better with the upcoming 50-year anniversary of the historical voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery,” said Helen du Toit, PSIFF Artistic Director.  The screening is followed by a reception at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The Awards Gala, Saturday, January 3, at the Palm Springs Convention Center is a black tie, red-carpet event that recognizes the best achievements of the cinematic year. As always, the list of recipients is packed with major talent, and honorees are often frontrunners for Academy Award consideration.

This year, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne will receive the Desert Palm Achievement Award. Moore is currently in Still Alice and Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo will be honored with the Breakthrough Performance Award. Pike plays the missing wife in Gone Girl.

Reese Witherspoon will receive the Chairman’s Award for her title role in Wild. The Spotlight Award will go to J.K. Simmons whose current film is Whiplash.

Acting giant Robert Duvall will be honored with the Icon Award. Duvall stars with Robert Downey in The Judge.

The Ensemble Performance Award will go to the cast of The Imitation Game, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu will receive the Director of the Year Award for his amazing work on Birdman. It is his second time winning the award. Director Richard Linklater will be honored for his achievement writing and directing Boyhood.

“Boyhood is a one-of-a-kind epic, shot over the course of 12 years with the same cast,” said Harold Matzner, Festival Chairman.  “It’s for his creative innovations in filmmaking that we are proud to present him with the Sonny Bono Visionary Award.”

Beyond the studio and independent movie contenders currently in theaters, the festival has 50 films that qualify in the Academy Awards Foreign Language Film Category. With the field narrowed to nine, eight of the PSIFF films have been selected to advance in the next round of Academy voting.

The Festival will spotlight Central and Eastern European filmmaking in a special program titled Eastern Promises. Many of the films in this event are also candidates for Oscar© consideration.

“Change is in the air and circulating around the globe at warp speed. Under-represented countries are making themselves heard in the Oscar© race,” said du Toit. “Filmmakers are mining the personal stories behind political movements. Marginalized women are asserting their rights. Emerging directors are staking their claims. These are exciting times in cinema and we are thrilled to be sharing them with our international audience.”

The PSIFF will include 65 premieres: seven world, five international, 20 in North America and 33 in the United States. This is what makes PSIFF such an important event to the industry as well as to visitors.

The PSIFF stands out in its ability to choose important as well as entertaining films. The Palm Springs International Film Society, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the PSIFF, has made part of its mission to cultivate and encourage new talent.

Through the New Voices/New Visions Award, one of 10 films from top emerging international directors will make its feature film debut at the Fest. The main criteria for films selected are those that are currently without US distribution.

This year launches a new venue. A symposium called The Power of Words: Books to Screen, which will be held January 8 at the Palm Springs Hilton. With a record-breaking year of book-to-film adaptations, this will be a timely and engaging event. Select films from the program will screen on January 7.

A Festival favorite is the Talking Picture events where some of the year’s most acclaimed films are screened, followed by conversations with the filmmakers, directors or actors. The Theory of Everything and Citizenfour are two of the films. There is also an Awards Buzz At Full Gallop discussion moderated by the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg.

Even at regular screenings, filmmakers are often on hand to introduce and take questions about their films.

As a tradition, the PSIFF has a Secret Screening. And it’s a well-kept secret! No media, no Facebook, no Twitter or texting is allowed before, during or after. This makes the event an intimate experience for all those in attendance.

On January 12, as part of the Film Society’s outreach, the Student Screening will be held at the Palm Springs High School auditorium. The attending kids will be treated to lunch and two movies. The screening includes an Argentina film called Natural Sciences and Keep on Keepin’ On from the US.

Other events include the Closing Night Gala, a Free Screening, special presentations and industry parties. There are so many movies to see and things to do during the PSIFF. It is a fun and hectic ten days of cinema bliss. For more information on any of the events, a schedule, description of films and tickets go now to For additional help call 800 898 7256 or 760 778 8079.

  • Alejandro G. Inarritu

  • David Oyelowo

  • Eddie Redmayne

  • JK Simmons

  • Julianne Moore

  • Keira Knightley

  • Reese Witherspoon

  • Richard Linklater

  • Robert Duvall

  • Rosamund Pike