Anyone that has attended the Palm Springs International Film
Festival has surely noticed the rather specific demographic – both in
background and age – that makes up the audiences that night after night fill up
the screenings. While audiences of color and from a wide age range live in this
small town, which has managed to put together an important regional festival
for nearly three decades, they don’t seem to have incorporated into the film festival
experience. The assumption that the festival is only for those with a higher
income, prominent educational backgrounds, or industry connections, might deter
local audiences, to whom the festival should aim, from attending.
Conscious of such this phenomenon, the festival and their
Latino team in particular, have doubled their efforts to create visibility for
the festival in a Latino context in order to attract those patrons that
erroneously could think their festival doesn’t welcome them or that it doesn’t
offer any stories that could entice them. People like seasoned programmer Hebe
Tabachnick, who ensures the best films to come out of Latin America that year
screen in Palm Springs; Program Manager Liliana Rodriguez, who also programs the After Dark section of the
festival and who is an outspoken supporter of Latin American cinema; or
Film Society Assistant Patricia Garza-Elsperger, whose efforts in making the festival a friendly
environment for local Latino audiences go above and beyond her official duties.
Events such as the Cine Latino Party, which brings together
filmmakers, press, programmers, staff and the general public, or the Latino
Filmmakers Dinner, where the artists discussed their works amongst each other
and with selected press in attendance in a casual environment that hopes to create a
stronger community of people rallying behind Latin American cinema, U.S. Latino
projects, and even honorary-Latino films like Paddy Breathnach Cuba-set “Viva.”
Thanks to Tabachnick and her collaborator’s relentless
dedication, an immense amount of Latin American films formed part of this
year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival program and an equally impressive
number of filmmakers came to the city to present their work. The film selection included "Alias Maria" (Colombia),"The Second Mother" (Brazil),"From Afar" (Venezuela), "Jeremy" (Mexico), "The Club" (Chile), "Liz in September" (Venezuela), "Magallanes" (Peru), "The Memory of Water" (Chile), "Papa" (Cuba), "Neon Bull" (Brazil), "Paulina" (Argentina), "The Clan" (Argentina). Celso R. García director of the Guillermo Del Toro-produced “The Thin Yellow Line” (La
delgada linea amarilla), Flavio Florencio
director of Mexican trans
documentary “Made in Bangkok,” Jayor Bustamante director of "Ixcanul," and Ciro Guerra director of the Academy Award-nominated "Embrace of the Serpent," were among he talented creators in attendance.
One particularly insightful presentation was the double
feature program of Michel Franco’s English-language debut “Chronic” and Gabriel Ripstein’s feature debut “600 Miles,” in which both filmmakers interchanged
roles as producer and directors respectively. Both hard-hitting and emotionally
devastating films star British actor Tim Roth in two very distinct roles. In “Chronic”
as a hospice caretaker struggling with his own turbulent past, and in “600
Miles” as an ATF agent that is kidnapped by a young Mexican boy working very dangerous
people. Following the screenings Tabachnick moderated a Q&A with Ripstein
and Roth about their mutual experience working on these titles.
As part of the festival’s commitment to engage its homegrown
audiences in the festival’s mission and to expose them stories from around the
world from, Tabachnik also hosted a screening of the Mexican family film “Jeremy”
(El Jeremias) at a local high school. Through initiatives like this, PSIFF wishes
to evolve into a more inclusive event that can cater to cinephiles, casual
attendees, and those looking to be surprised – no matter how young they are.
Community outreach via the power of cinema is what could truly transform the
festival from its apparent elite quality to an accessible and much more multicultural
space to enjoy and discuss the art form.
Latin American cinema is consistently present and awarded at
countless festival due to the particular voices and topical issues it depicts,
not only with an authentic approach, but always layered with universal appeal. It’s
time that audiences represented in such films or those connected to them by
their heritage become a stronger force not only at the mainstream box-office
but also at festival where they can have an interaction with the storytellers behind
the camera. On that note, Palm Springs International Film Festival is on the
right path into becoming a festival that retains the quality of the films, but
sets its eyes on diversifying the eyes set that come through the theater doors.
The 27th Palm Springs International Film Festival took place January 1-11, 2016.