Palm Springs Fest: Awards Portal

PSIFF honorees share festival memories

At last year's Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Japanese film "Departures" won the fest's Audience Award before going on to win the best foreign-language Oscar statuette. With the festival coming so close to March's Academy Awards (this year it runs Jan. 5-18), PSIFF is an essential marketing tool to promote movies that might earn Oscar nominations.

So it's no surprise that the Mojave Desert event, founded in 1989 by then-Mayor Sonny Bono, has become a screening shop for most of the foreign-language Oscar hopefuls. During its two-week run, in fact, 195 films from 60 countries will screen on 15 screens at five venues.

With its blend of glitz and star power -- a Jan. 5 awards gala will honor Helen Mirren ("The Last Station"), Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart"), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") and Mariah Carey ("Precious"), among others -- the festival has developed a Cannes-like glamour.

This year it will also feature directors Lee Daniels ("Precious"), Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"), Rob Marshall ("Nine") and Tom Ford ("A Single Man"), all of whom will participate in a Q&A/screening series known as the Contenders.

Additional highlights include the New Voices/New Vision program, which screens 10 films by first-time directors, one of which will walk away with a juried prize.

Notably, the festival will also spotlight Australian cinema, screening 10 new films in collaboration with G'Day USA, a 6-year-old U.S. tour that celebrates all things Australian. The tour launches Jan. 9, designated Australian Film Day by the fest -- something that has generated much-needed financial support.

"Once we decided to devote our special showcase to Australian cinema this year, the support we garnered from various Australian film bodies, trade organizations and companies like Quantas and Penfold's Wines was enormous," says Darryl MacDonald, the festival's executive director. "They came on board as a full partner in our efforts."