Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Brian Brooks
December 18, 2008 9:11 AM
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FESTIVALS | "Last Chance Harvey" and "Burning Plain" Bookend 20th Palm Springs Film Fest

Joel Hopkins' "Last Chance Harvey" will open the 20th Palm Springs International Film Festival, taking place in the California desert town January 8 - 19. The festival will host 210 films from 73 countries including 14 world, 48 U.S. and 16 North American debuts, including 50 of the 67 films submitted for consideration in the best foreign language category for the Academy Awards. Among the roster are four galas including the festival's closing night film, the U.S. premiere of "The Burning Plain," the directorial debut of "Amores Perros screenwriter, Guillermo Arriaga.

"Last Chance Harvey" is a romance/drama of a struggling New Yorkjingle writer and a lonely British bureaucrat who meet in London and transform one another's lives. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson each received a Golden Globe nomination for best actor and best actress in the music or comedy category for their performances in the film. Also screening as a gala is the U.S. premiere of Nigel Cole's "$5 a Day," about a son who is forced to reunite with his con-artist father during a cross-country odyssey and the world premiere of "Alien Trespass" by R.W. Goodwin about a U.F.O. that crashes in California revealing a murderous creature determined to kill all life on earth but is challenged by a benevolent alien who occupies the body of a local astronomer, played by Eric McCormack.

Also on the gala list is Spanish director nacho Velilla's "The Gay!La: Chef's Special" about a cook who ditches his dream of Michelin stardom to manage a small barrio eatery. Arriaga's closing feature, "Burning Plain," meanwhile is described by the festival as a "layered story of a self-destructive woman and two intertwined families, starring Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence and Joaquim de Almeida.

As previously announced, PSIFF will honor Clint Eastwood with its Career Achievement Award, Ron Howard with the Director's Lifetime Achievement Award, "Revolutionary Road" with the Ensemble Performance Award, Anne Hathaway with the "Desert Palm Achievement Award for Acting," Amy Adams with the Spotlight Award and Dakota Fanning with the Rising Star Award.

"Over the course of its first 19 years, this festival has always celebrated creative expression and embraced a diversity of visions and viewpoints," commented festival director Darryl Macdonald in a statement. "Happily, we are reaching our 20th anniversary milestone at a time when a new generation of filmmaking talent is making its debut on the world stage, with about one-third of this year's film selections by first or second-time directors. Just as this year's line-up brings the promise of new voices to infuse the cinema with a renewal of its creative energy, the festival itself is undergoing a reincarnation of sorts, with new staff, a fresh sense of purpose where the industry is concerned, and a clear eye to the future of the art form."

Included in this year's line up are 12 features from international filmmakers with their first or second films. The following is a list of the films in this section with descriptions provided by the festival:

"Among the Clouds" (Iran) - In southwest Iran, near the border with Iraq, a resourceful 16-year-old baggage porter becomes smitten with a slightly older Iraqi girl who's not what she seems in this bittersweet drama. A U.S. premiere, directed by Rouhollah Hejazi.

"Ciao Bella" (Sweden) - When Iranian-born Swede Mustafa is transformed into Latin lover Massimo, his suave manners and sense of style attract working-class beauty Linnea. This sassily humorous love story manages to address serious issues, including national stereotyping, racism, and an increasingly sexualized youth environment. A U.S. premiere, directed by Mani Maserrat-Agha.

"Eugene" (USA) - Marking its world premiere, Jake Barsha's feature debut is a brilliantly disturbing psychological thriller about a lonely bachelor who befriends a young hustler and his girlfriend, with disastrous results for all involved. Strong performances--Stuart Bennett in the lead role is particularly fine--support Eugene's taut script and beautiful camerawork.

"Grown Ups" (France/Sweden) - This U.S. premiere tells the story of a single French father and his shy teen daughter discover romance--and deal with a shift in their own relationship--during a Swedish summer holiday. Debuting director Anna Novion proves an astute observer of human interactions in this wistfully charming comic drama.

"Hooked" (Romania/France) - A day in the country becomes a crisis of conscience for two lovers after they hit a prostitute with their car. Presumed dead, she suddenly wakes up, and the couple lies to her about the accident. Hooked's naturalistic, handheld visual style complements the psychological complexity of the screenplay. A U.S. premiere, directed by Adrian Sitaru.

"Machan" (Italy/Sri Lanka/Germany) - Based on a real-life event, Machan tells the story of a group of slum dwellers on the margins of society who find an invitation to a handball tournament in Bavaria, and band together to form the unlikely Sri Lanka National Handball Team. A U.S. premiere, directed by Uberto Pasolini.

"Rain" (Bahamas) - Teenager Rain (Renel Naomi Brown) embarks on a quest to find her mother, whom she has never met, and is devastated by what she finds. Director Maria Govan's powerful debut feature, marking its U.S. premiere, exposes viewers to a side of life in the Bahamas rarely seen by outsiders.

"The Seven Days" (Israel) - When a large clan (a who's who of Israel's finest performers) gathers for the funeral and shiva of a loved one, bitterness and family feuds soon take precedence over mourning. A North American premiere, directed by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz.

"The Shaft" (China) - Set amid the imposing mountains of western China, the dreams and disappointments of a family of coalmine workers poignantly reflect the plight of a vast number of ordinary laborers unable to climb the ladder of the country's post-Communist economy. A U.S. premiere, directed by Zhang Chi.

"South Desert" (Chile) - Young Sofia finds a letter her mother had written before her recent death. Returned because the addressee was unknown, the letter leads Sofia on an adventure from Spain to the far south of Chile looking for answers. A U.S. premiere, directed by Shawn Garry.

"Unspoken" (Belgium) - When something truly heartbreaking happens in a family, the deepest response is often unspoken. A middle-aged Belgian couple struggle with the loss of their daughter five years on. A U.S. premiere, directed by Fien Troch.

"The Wedding Song" (Tunisia/France) - This U.S. premiere is Karin Albou's (Little Jerusalem) sophomore feature and confirms her status as a rising star in the art-film firmament. The story of a Muslim girl and a Jewish girl who bond intensely during the Nazi occupation of Tunis is taboo breaking, sensual, and political, all at the same time.

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