By Heidi Simmons

It’s that time of year where nearly one hundred and fifty thousand film buffs descend on Palm Springs to stand in the sun and sit in the dark. For a quarter of a century, The Palm Springs International Film Festival has brought the best of world cinema to the Coachella Valley.

“The Festival has come to be known as the pre-eminent launch pad for foreign language films and filmmakers in the US,” said Darryl Macdonald Festival Director. “It’s become a major harbinger of the award season’s frontrunners on the road to the Oscars®.”

Beginning January 3 and continuing through the 13th, there will be 475 showings of 187 films from 60 countries. The PSIFF is one of the largest film festivals in North America and will highlight 45 of the 76 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science for Best Foreign Language Film.


The Festival offers an opportunity to see an amazing array of movies that may never be seen in this country again. The PSIFF utilizes nine theaters in Palm Springs with a total of 15 screens: the Regal Cinemas, Camelot Theater, Palm Springs High School Auditorium, the Annenberg Theater and the Palm Canyon Theater.

Besides foreign films, the Festival features American independent films. English speaking films are plentiful if the challenge of subtitles puts you off. There is something for everybody: Family, fantasy, Gay and Lesbian, senior citizens, biopics, sci-fi, sports, war, music and dance, religion, experimental plus all the standards like drama, action adventure, romance, animation and comedy. One of the more fun things about the festival is to discover talented first time filmmakers.

While the PSIFF searches the world for new talent, it also celebrates the best and brightest in the industry. The PSIFF Awards Gala has the honor of beginning the first program in the 2014 award season.

As always, there is a fantastic line-up of talent. Meryl Streep will receive the Icon Award; Tom Hanks, the Chairman’s Award; Bruce Dern, the Career Achievement Award; Steve McQueen, the Director of the Year Award; Sandra Bullock, the Desert Palm Achievement Actress Award; Matthew McConaughey, the Desert Palm Achievement Actor Award; Julia Roberts, the Spotlight Award and American Hustle receives the Ensemble Performance Award.

Lupita Nyong’o receives the Breakthrough Performance Award for her role in 12 Years a Slave and the Frederick Loewe Music Award goes to Thomas Newman for his outstanding film work as a composer. The star studded Awards Gala is Saturday night, January 4, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Part of the great fun of the Festival, are the Galas happening all around Palm Springs’ hot spots. There is a Canadian Gala at Lulu’s, a French Gala at the Purple Room, A Chinese Gala at Wang’s, a Swiss Gala at Trio, a gay Gay!LA at Toucan’s, an Italian Gala at the Viceroy and the Cine Latino Gala at the Ace Hotel. With opening and closing galas, special screening galas and parties, there is something exciting going on every night during the Festival.

Festival programs and events are abundant. The Talking Pictures where actors, writers, directors and producers hold a question and answer after the film with the audience. Q & A’s are a wonderful way to explore the creative process and to learn more about filmmaking. Past visitors have included Javier Bardem, George Clooney, Naomi Watts and Michael Douglas to name a few.

There is a Secret Screening that can be so secret you miss it. The only way to find out about the movie is to attend. This is a favorite Festival event and you must have a ticket in advance. Even Pass holders must pick-up a ticket at the box office.

Perhaps the most important event of the PSIFF is the Student Screening Day. On the last day of the Festival, January 13, over one thousand high school students from around the Coachella Valley will be treated to two films that include a question and answer session with the filmmakers. Students are treated to a free lunch catered by Chipotle.

The films for the Student Screening are Wadjda from Saudi Arabia and Germany, and The Crash Reel from the USA. Both films feature kids in a challenging situation they must overcome. Both are being considered for Oscar® nominations. This event has been held for the last six years at the Palm Springs High School auditorium and the kids always appreciate the high quality of the films.

As part of this landmark celebration, the festival will hold a 25th Anniversary Showcase featuring 10 outstanding films from the first 24 years. Each film either won the PSIFF Audience Award for Most Popular Film or went on to win an Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film.

Also included in the Anniversary lineup are now-celebrated films and directors whose careers were assisted by showcasing their early work at the Festival. These movies today still hold a place in film history and remain favorites: Cinema Paradiso, Delicatessen, Life is Beautiful, The Sea Inside, Sofie, Strictly Ballroom, Love in the Time of Hysteria, Departures, No Man’s Land and The Lives of Others. This is a terrific opportunity to revisit these films on the big screen.

On the final Saturday night of the Festival, January 11, a free showing of Cinema Paradiso will be presented at the Forever Marilyn Park at the corner of Tahquitz Canyon and Palm Canyon. It is a perfect opportunity to join the community of movie lovers in an outdoor setting. Participants are invited to sit on a blanket and enjoy a picnic dinner under the stars and the gaze of the giant Marilyn Monroe.

Seventy percent of those who attend the Festival are from out-of-state. There are 800 volunteers and over 120 employees who make the experience interesting, enticing and fresh. Many who attend the Fest are more than mere film buffs. They love travel, embrace diversity and are curious to experience something new. Part of the joy is meeting interesting and colorful people and sharing favorite movie moments.

“The Festival has more than justified Sonny Bono’s faith in the possibility of launching such an event here in Palm Springs back in the late 1980s,” said Macdonald. “It provides a priceless opportunity to enjoy a unique cultural vacation.”

For 25 years, The Palm Springs International Film Festival has created an environment that celebrates movies. It successfully promotes and nurtures filmmakers, honors world cinema and the great art of film itself.