Palm Springs Film Fest: Oscar Hopeful 'Selma' to Open Academy-Favorite Gathering

Oprah Oyelowo DuVernay Selma Premiere H 2014
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Oprah Oyelowo DuVernay Selma Premiere H 2014

A screening of Selma, the Golden Globe-nominated drama about Martin Luther King Jr., will kick off the 26th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on Jan. 2, the fest announced Tuesday. The opening-night slot — and a post-screening reception at the Palm Springs Art Museum, at which talent from the film will be on hand — will help to shine a spotlight on the Paramount contender in front of a desert community in which hundreds of Academy members live or have second (or third) homes.

"We are thrilled too launch this year's festival with Selma, Ava DuVernay's deeply moving civil rights drama featuring an Oscar-worthy performance by David Oyelowo," PSIFF artistic director Helen du Toit said in a statement.

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PSIFF, which runs for 10 days, also announced that its closing night of Jan. 11 will center around the U.S. premiere of Francois Girard's Boychoir, which festival director Darryl Macdonald described in the statement as "a rapturous new work" by an "acclaimed master of music on film."

In one other bit of Oscar-related news, the fest announced plans to spotlight Central and Eastern European filmmaking at this year's fest with a special sidebar titled "Eastern Promises," as part of which it will screen 20 of "the most stirring, controversial and acclaimed films of 2014." Among them will be 11 nations' official Oscar submissions: Croatia's Cowboys, Czech Republic's Fair Play, Estonia's Tangerines, Georgia's Corn Island, Hungary's White God, Kosovo's Three Windows and a Hanging, Latvia's Rocks in My Pockets, Poland's Ida, Romania's The Japanese Dog, Serbia's See You in Montevideo and Ukraine's The Guide.

Read more 'Selma': Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo List Film's Lessons for Protesters

"Cinephiles who came of age in the days of the Czech and Polish New Waves have cause to rejoice," Alisa Simon, PSIFF's senior programmer, said in the statement. "In 2014, filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe produced some of the most poignant and provocative works of world cinema, and we are spotlighting them here."

The fest previously announced that The Imitation Game will receive this year's Ensemble Performance Award, Boyhood's writer-director Richard Linklater will receive this year's Visionary Award, Wild's lead actress Reese Witherspoon will receive this year's Chairman's Award, The Theory of Everything's lead actor Eddie Redmayne and Still Alice's lead actress Julianne Moore will receive this year's Desert Palm Achievement awards, Whiplash's supporting actor J.K. Simmons will receive this year's Spotlight Award and Selma's David Oyelowo and Gone Girl's lead actress Rosamund Pike will receive this year's Breakthrough Performance awards.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg