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Palm Springs International Film Festival: A Personal Summation

Palm Springs International Film Festival: A Personal Summation

Palm Springs
International Film Festival

is the most accommodating to the industry, the easiest to get around with a frequent shuttle, the easiest to see great films, the best environment, the
best audiences (all the shows are sold out) of festivals.

However, it is strange being surrounded by old people who are all my age. My prejudices against “old people” remains the same as when I considered them to
be a part of my mother’s generation. However, some of these “old people” know so much more about the films, and their educated way of making choices of
what to see are so much better than mine. I thought I knew everything…what a laugh. They know every director, all their past films, and they
painstakingly plan with handwritten schedules and lots of discussion which films they will see.

I have been coming to the festival, almost “dropping in” on it since it is a mere 2 hour drive from L.A. for many years and everyone is always so helpful.
It is totally familiar to me; it’s leisurely, very few restaurants (if any) are really great, there is a certain tackiness to the shops AND there are
always new film adventures and new folks to see.

This year I was happily hanging out the first weekend with Nancy Gerstman from Zeitgeist, and on the second
weekend with Fortissimo’s Michael Werner and Tom Davia whose new company CineMaven ( sounds like a great company for festivals, filmmakers and companies needing acquisition help. We
had a great dinner at Spencer’s where the Awards Luncheon was held.

On the recommendation of Mattijs Wouter Knol, the new head of the European Film Market at Berlin – on Facebook
as he is now preparing the EFM and was not here – I watched Clouds of Sils Maria” by Olivier Assayas. Opinions on
this film as with most films by Assayas, vary, but mine is that this languid study on acting and real life and how aging and death fit into the mix was a
major treat. Like Polanski’s “Venus in Fur”, the alternating currents of acting and real life flow electrically with shocks and illumination included.
Rather than aging, let’s call ourselves “ageless” and have an end to confusion about the inevitable life processes.

Like “Winters Sleep," another of my favorite “intellectual cinema” choices, in “Sils Maria”, the interior processes of the protagonists are revealed only
in the unfolding of the story.

Kirsten Stewart played an amazing role as the actress’s young assistant in this deeply felt, intellectually worked out study of aging vs. ageless.

By biting off what seems like more than she can chew in consenting to play opposite the great Juliette Binoche who is at the height of her career, a young
Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (Chloë Grace Moretz) gives Juliette Binoche the resolution to the unhappiness that has been nagging at her
throughout the film.

Maria Enders is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years earlier. But back then, she played the role of Sigrid, an
alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older
Helena. She doesn’t want to play this role but is coaxed by circumstances into playing it and when she discusses it with the young actress who blithely
tells her it’s time to move on, she becomes the Eve of “All About Eve” and Juliette “gets” it.

Cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux (“Only Lovers Left Alive," “Potiche," “Carlos”). IFC has North American rights.

Moving on, I can’t wait to see Juliette Binoche in her next role, the Opening Night film of the Berlinale,
Isabel Croixet’s “Nobody Wants the Night . The film co-stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (“Babel”) and Gabriel Byrne (as explorer Robert Peary) and takes place in 1908 in the Arctic and
Greenland. (ISA: Elle Driver

The other film I saw that first weekend was “Dancing Arabs” (ISA: The Match Factory) by Eran Riklis
who was there to discuss the film as well. He had been a soldier in Israel’s worst war. He witnessed Sadat making peace with Israel. However, when Perez
was assassinated, he saw Israel declining into a violent nation as peace became more and more elusive.

Dancing Arabs
is a very popular novel in Israel. It is an odd title for this film, but it derives from a saying, “you can’t dance at two weddings at the same time”. The
film is also loosely based on another novel…Second Person Singular. But after filming a while, the characters took on lives of their own and the
novels were more or less forgotten in the process of making the movie.

Lots of questions are left open in this film because there are no answers. In a way, the film is experimental. It opens as a charming family film, but
changes and actually becomes almost morbid. People however do change, and the young “genius” living in a small Arab town in Israel/ Palestine becomes a
mature man living in Berlin at the end of the story.

This is the first film of the male lead, Tawfeek Barhom. Who plays Eyad. While casting, Riklis said
that the young actor told him he had known him since he was ten when he saw him making the movie “The Syrian Bride” in his village. He went to set every day for three weeks, and he
knew he wanted to be an actor. On screen he is playing himself, and a lot of the story was true…he lived too long with the Jews, his Arab was no longer
good. This he said at a screening held in the north of Israel to an audience of mostly Arabs who do not go to many movies, but were invited by Israel to
see the film.

In the film he gives up his education for love of girl and she gives up her love for him for the love of her country. This is how minority relationships
often turn out.

Eyad’s father’s reaction to the relationship of his university student son with an Israeli Jewish student is unexpected, but he too is buried by tradition
whereas the mother with her small smile gives a ray of hope.

The scriptwriter-novelist, Sayed Kashua is brilliant, and this is a part of his real life. Kashua
and Riklis have a love-hate relationship: when Kashua, who based the novel on his own life, saw the fine cut…he fainted. His wife said, “What are you
complaining about, did your mother look like that?”

Sayed said complained that his own kids don’t speak Arabic anymore, and so he took a sabbatical and is now in Champaign-Urbana at the University of

The audience in Israel, judging by the 20 to 30 Facebook comments, they get daily consists of 20% Arabs which is great because they don’t normally go to
movies. Even a right wing Israeli said he liked the movie. The goes beyond right and left.

It is not a blockbuster, but it doing well. The word “Arab” might keep some people away.

On the second weekend I went to see “Salt of the Earth” (ISA: NDM), now nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the Academy Awards, and
Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson” by her grandniece Michelle Boyaner.

Sebastião Salgado’s photographs are linked by his son and director Wim Wenders to his life. With his own voice and that of his son, Juliano, they discover
the undiscovered in photography and in their own lives.

Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson” is the story of artist Edith Lake Wilkinson, committed to an asylum in 1925 and never heard from again. All her worldly possessions were packed into trunks
and shipped to a relative in West Virginia where they sat in an attic for 40 years. Edith’s great-niece, Emmy Award winning writer and director Jane
Anderson, grew up surrounded by Edith’s paintings, thanks to her mother who had gone poking through that dusty attic and rescued Edith’s work. The film
follows Jane in her decades-long journey to find the answers to the mystery of Edith’s buried life, return the work to Provincetown and have Edith’s
contributions recognized by the larger art world.

READ MORE: Sydney Levine on "Finding Vivian Maier"

In many ways this is similar to “Finding Vivian Maier," which also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Feature Documentary category, in that both recover long
lost and never acknowledged art which is astoundingly good art. This one goes further into the lesbian relationships of artists Edith and Jane and takes
another unexpected step into the psychic world of a medium who actually solves the mystery of why Edith was committed and then forgotten. This is a
must-see for art lovers and would make a great fiction film as well.

Another notable aspect of PSIFF that is how, just before the Awards begin for Golden Globe and for the Academy, all the big name stars are here for two
awards events. One, the opening night gala raises millions for the festival. The other, Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch brunch, brings more stars and that funny speech by Chris Rock
(See Video Here).

READ MORE: Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev on his  Oscar-Nominated "Leviathan"

Also remarkable is that, aside from the above Awards and then the final festival awards bestowed, the
Golden Globes mirrored the Palm Springs Fest’s awards:

Actress in a drama: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice
(ISA: Memento) won PSIFF’s Achievement Award

Actor in a drama: Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything” (UIP) also received the
PSIFF Desert Palm Achievement Award.

Supporting actor, drama: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash” (ISA: Sierra/ Affinity) received the
PSIFF Spotlight Award.

Director Richard Linklater, “Boyhood” (UIP/ Paramount) received the Sonny Bono Visionary Award.

Foreign Language Film: "Leviathan” (ISA: Pyramide) received the PSiFF Best Foreign Language Film.

Screenplay: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, “Birdman” (Fox Searchlight), Inarritu received PSIFF
Director of the Year Award which was bestowed by “Birdman” star Michael Keaton. And the Golden Globe Award for Actor, musical or comedy, went to Michael
Keaton for “Birdman

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Catherine Wyler

Hi, Sydney, Wish I’d been there with you. On my calendar for next year. Thanks for all the good info!

Ernst Gossner

makes me want to go there again and again. thanks!

J. R. Niles

Excellent reviews on the films and P.S. festival. I will put these on my ”to see" list.

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