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by Brian Brooks
December 17, 2010 6:05 AM
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Oscar Contenders, First Timers & Africa in Palm Springs Fest Spotlight

Highlights from the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival emerged today, with the festival announcing titles competing in its sections spotlighting 12 directors making their narrative feature film debuts as well as ten first time doc filmmakers. The festival is also spotlighting 13 premieres from Africa and will continue its tradition of screening a majority of the films that have been submitted for Best Foreign Language consideration for the Oscars.

PSIFF will screen 40 of the 65 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“In addition to presenting the biggest selection of foreign language Oscar submissions of any festival, we are shining the spotlight on some dynamic emerging filmmakers,” commented Helen du Toit, Director of Programming in a statement. “Our New Voices/New Visions Showcase for first narrative features and the John Schlesinger Award for best first documentary feature are two distinctive ways that the Festival will be identifying exciting new talent who are stretching boundaries and forging new ground in narrative and non-fiction storytelling.”

Films screening in the 2011 PSIFF's New Voices/New Visions, John Schlesinger Award, Awards Buzz and Cinema Safari: A Showcase of African Cinema sections with descriptions and credits provided by the festival

New Voices/New Visions (12 features from new international filmmakers marking their feature film debut without U.S. distribution):

"40" (Turkey) - Chaotic, modern-day Istanbul, a city of 12 million inhabitants and a multitude of cultural influences, provides the backdrop for this taut, suspenseful tale setting three people from radically different backgrounds on a collision course over a bag that may hold the answer to each of their dreams. Director: Emre Sahin. U.S. Premiere.

"The Albanian" (Germany/Albania) - An Albanian illegal immigrant in Berlin tries to earn the dowry demanded by the family of his pregnant beloved back home in this social-issues drama. Winner, Best Actor, Special Jury Prize, Moscow Film Festival. Director: Johannes Naber. North America Premiere.

"As if I Am Not There" (Ireland/Macedonia/Sweden) - A harsh dose of realism about the Bosnian War of the 1990s, director Wilson’s drama chronicles the fate of a school teacher forced into sexual slavery by Serbian soldiers. A harrowing depiction of the horrors of war from a woman’s point of view. Director: Juanita Wilson. U.S. Premiere.

"Beyond" (Sweden/Finland) - Acclaimed actress Pernilla August makes her directing/writing debut with this compassionate look at a woman who fought all her life to let go of her grief over her dark childhood as the daughter of bitter, hard-drinking Finnish immigrants. Winner, Audience Award, Critic’s Week Venice Film Festival; Best Film, Nordic Film Days, Lubeck. Director: Pernilla August. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Ola Rapace, Outi Maenpaa, Ville Virtanen, Tehilla Blad. North America Premiere.

"Black Field" (Greece) - This gorgeous, delicately crafted period piece chronicles a forbidden love story, set in 1654, when Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. When a wounded young soldier and novice nun take refuge in a forest, some surprises are in store. Director: Vardis Marinakis.

"Eighteen Years Later" (Italy) - Two brothers who haven’t spoken for 18 years are forced by their father’s will to undertake a road trip together to bring his ashes to Southern Italy. It’s a dramatic comedy, with a touch of the fantastic, that surprises and moves. Director: Edoardo Leo.

"Hello! How Are You?" (Romania/Spain/Italy) - A witty, stylishly crafted tale of a husband and wife whose 20-year marriage has long since lost its zing. In humorous contrast to their staid, passionless lives, characters in a constant state of sexual arousal surround them. Director: Alexandru Maftei. U.S. Premiere

"Nothing’s All Bad" (Denmark) - A mother confronts the death of her husband while her daughter faces life after a mastectomy. A father, who can’t control his need to expose himself in public, has a son whose handsomeness has become more curse than blessing. This daring and darkly funny film links all four in sometimes disturbing ways. Director: Mikkel Munch-Fals.

"Oxygen" (Belgium/Netherlands) - Centering on a teen with cystic fibrosis, Oxygen skirts disease-of-the-week cliché to deliver a touching portrait of youth facing mortality far too soon. Winner, Grand Prix of the Americas, Montreal Film Festival, Variety New Talent Award, Zurich Film Festival, Alice in the Cities Award, Rome Film Festival. Director: Hans Van Nuffel. U.S. Premiere.

"Paper Birds" (Spain) - This touching tale of the bonds of friendship amongst the members of a traveling entertainment troupe in a post-civil war Spain celebrates the lost art of vaudeville and features superb performances by Spanish acting royalty Imanol Arias, Lluis Homar and Carmen Machi. Winner, Audience Award, Montreal World Film Festival. Director: Emilio Aragón.

"Sound of Noise" (Sweden/France) - The sound and image anarchists behind the 2001 cult short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers successfully take their concept and talent to a larger arena in Sound of Noise, a delightful comic cocktail of modern city symphony, police procedural and love story. Directors: Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson.

"Square Meter" (Chile) - As Francisca and Andres settle into their love nest, their pasts continue to intrude upon the idyllic situation they both had envisioned – the baggage they cannot shed much like the boxes they seem unable to unpack. Director: Nayra Ilic. U.S. Premiere.


John Schlesinger Award (First-time documentary filmmakers whose work is presented in any section of the festival):

"The Arbor" (United Kingdom) - This stunningly original picture reconstructs the life of talented British playwright Andrea Dunbar (Rita, Sue and Bob Too) who died at age 29. After spending two years conducting audio recordings with Dunbar’s family, friends, and neighbors, Barnard filmed actors flawlessly lip-synching the interviews. Winner, Best Documentary, Tribeca Film Festival. Director: Clio Barnard.

"Autumn Gold" (Austria/Germany) - Full of humor and determination, Autumn Gold centers on five senior athletes who each have one goal: to take part in the track and field section of the World Masters Championships 2009 in Finland. The biggest challenge they face is their age: all are between 82 and 100 years old. Director: Jan Tenhaven. U.S. Premiere.

"Bill Cunningham New York" (USA) - As a photographic contributor to the Style section of The New York Times, Bill Cunningham redefined ideas of fashion in post-WWII America. Still snapping pictures, the singular Cunningham—as captured in this joyful and affectionate documentary—gets the celebration he deserves. Director: Richard Press.

"David Wants To Fly" (Germany/Austria/Switzerland) - This sprightly documentary about finding your own artistic inspiration follows German writer-director David Sieveking on his road to enlightenment, a journey that involves cult director David Lynch, various headquarters of the Transcendental Meditation movement and the icy source of the Ganges. Director: David Sieveking.

"Garbo: The Spy" (Spain) - A fascinating account of an extraordinary Spanish double agent who helped change the course of history during WWII. The peak of “Garbo”’s career came in 1944, when he succeeded in diverting German defense forces to Calais while the Allied landings were taking place in Normandy. After this, he retired by faking his own death. Director: Edmon Roch.

"In the Garden of Sounds" (Switzerland) - In this transcendent documentary, a blind man builds a magical garden of sound in which he works with severely handicapped children. Immersed in an environment of patience and compassion, the tension in their bodies gradually dissipates as they open to the mysteries of sound and music. Director: Nicola Bellucci.

"The Pipe" (Ireland) - When gas was discovered off Ireland’s west coast, events were set in motion that soon had the locals up in arms against the Shell oil company. By focusing closely on the locals, director O’Domhnaill shows how individual action remains vital in an increasingly corporate world. Winner, Best Documentary, Galway Film Festival. Director: Risteard O’Domhnaill. U.S. Premiere.

"Precious Life" (Israel/USA) - Set against the backdrop of Israel’s 2008-09 blockade of Gaza and its military offensive there, Israeli television correspondent Shlomi Eldar’s personal, provocative documentary offers a feast for debate and was named to the long list of potential documentary Academy Award nominees. Director: Shlomi Eldar.

"Steam of Life" (Finland) - A grizzly bear peers in a window, a farmer steams in an abandoned telephone booth, and men of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes bare their hearts, souls and bodies in saunas throughout Finland in this moving documentary that redefines masculinity. Director: Joonas Berghall.

"Summer Pasture" (China/Tibet/USA) - In one of the most beautiful but remote grasslands of eastern Tibet, we are allowed a rare glimpse into the life of nomads, who, having followed 4,000-year-old traditions, are now at a crossroads, lured by a permanent life in the city. Director: Lynn True.


Cinema Sarafi: A Showcase of African Cinema: 13 new films made in Africa or reflecting contemporary African stories and themes.

"Africa United" (United Kingdom/South Africa/Rwanda) - Two young Rwandan soccer players undertake the 3,000-mile trip to South Africa for the World Cup in this exuberant, hopeful and supremely entertaining road movie that, while not whitewashing the myriad problems faced by modern Africans, shows how fast things are changing. Director: Debs Gardner-Paterson. Cast: Eriya Ndayambaje, Sanyu Joanita Kintu, Roger Nsengiyumva, Sherrie Silver, Yves Dusenge.

"The Athlete" (Ethiopa/Germany/USA) - Marathoner Abebe Bikila, the first black African to win an Olympic gold, ran his gold medal marathon barefoot. Impressive, sure, but Bikila’s story becomes truly remarkable following an accident that leaves him unable to walk. Directors: Davey Frankel, Rasselas Lakew. Cast: Rasselas Lakew, Dag Malmberg, Ruta Gedmintas, Abba Waka Dessalegn.

"Desert Flower" (UK/Germany/Austria) - Daughter of a Somali shepherd, Waris Dirie went on to become a top supermodel and a spokesperson against the ongoing genital mutilation of African women. Hormann’s gorgeous biopic of this inspiring woman is anchored by supermodel Liya Kebede’s quietly determined turn in the lead. Director: Sherry Hormann. Cast: Liya Kebede, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Craig Parkinson, Anthony Mackie, Meera Syal.

"I Am Slave" (United Kingdom) - Powerful and shocking by turns, this drama of the modern-day slave trade features a soul-stirring performance from Wunmi Mosaku as a Sudanese woman sold into slavery who ends up “working” for a family in London without pay and while deprived of her passport. Director: Gabriel Range. Cast: Wunmi Mosaku, Isaach de Bankolé, Lubna Azabal, Igal Naor, Hiam Abbass. U.S. Premiere.

"Imani" (Uganda/Sweden) - In the course of just one day in contemporary Uganda, we venture into the seemingly unrelated lives of a child soldier, a maid, and a hip hop dancer. A refreshing snapshot of a country settling into a new national identity with richly drawn characters and vivid cinematography. Director: Caroline Kamya. Cast: Rehema Nanfuka, Philip Buyi, Stephen Ocen.

"Kinshasa Symphony" (Germany) - A true ode to joy, this heartening, hopeful movie dispels European stereotypes about Africa. It shows how people living in one of the most chaotic cities in the world have managed to forge one of the most complex systems of human cooperation ever invented: a symphony orchestra. Winner, Audience Award, Vancouver Film Festival. Director: Claus Wischmann.

"The Last Lions" (USA/Botswana) - Fifty years ago there were close to half-a-million lions in Africa. Today there are around 20,000. This cogent, beautifully filmed documentary makes a much-needed case for the protection of lions and “big cats” in general. A cri de coeur that is both timely and fascinating. Director: Dereck Joubert. World Premiere.

"The Lazarus Effect" (USA) - This 30-minute documentary, directed by Lance Bangs and executive produced by Spike Jonze, follows the story of HIV-positive people in Zambia, who undergo remarkable transformations thanks to access to antiretroviral medications. Director: Lance Bangs.

"Life Above All" (South Africa/Germany) - Featuring a completely winning central performance from the young Khomotso Manyaka as an intelligent and willful girl coming of age in South Africa during the AIDS epidemic, Oliver Schmitz’s powerful drama offers a message of hope for that beleaguered nation. Director: Oliver Schmitz. Cast: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Manamela, Lerato Mvelase, Tinah Mnumzana.

"Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle" (USA/South Africa) - An artful and inspiring documentary about how Nelson Mandela chose the wise path of reconciliation over revenge when he became president of South Africa. Director Wilson’s wide-ranging amalgam of historical footage and contemporary interviews shows how the “miracle” became a reality. Director: Michael Henry Wilson. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Desmond Tutu, FX de Klerk, Zindzi Mandela, Francois Pienaar and the Springboks. World Premiere.

"A Screaming Man" (Chad/France/Belgium) - Confirmed as one of Africa’s preeminent film artists, Haroun returns to themes of family and loyalty in war-torn Chad. When proud hotel swimming pool attendant Adam loses his precious job to his own son, he makes a decision that he will forever regret. Winner Special Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival. Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Cast: Emile Abossolo M’bo, Youssuf Djaoro.

"Soul Boy" (Kenya/Germany) - A gentle coming-of-age story encompassing the diverse worlds of the Kenyan capital, combining traditional beliefs and contemporary problems into a narrative that’s part fairy tale, part teaching tool. Director: Hawa Essuman. Cast: Samson Odhiambo, Leila Dayan Opou, Krysteen Savane, Frank Kimani.


Awards Buzz (This section features screenings of 40 of the 65 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Foreign Language Film, selected by festival programmers as "the strongest entries in this year’s race."):

"Carancho" (Argentina), Director: Pablo Trapero
"Illegal" (Belgium), Director: Olivier Masset-Depasse
"Cirkus Columbia" (Bosnia/Herzegovina), Director: Danis Tanovic
"Lula, the Son of Brazil" (Brazil), Director: Fabio Barreto
"Eastern Plays" (Bulgaria), Director: Kamen Kalev
"The Life of Fish" (Chile), Director: Matias Bize
"Aftershock" (China), Director: Feng Xiaogang
"Of Love and Other Demons" (Costa Rica), Director: Hilda Hidalgo
"Kawasaki’s Rose" (Czech Republic), Director: Jan Hrebejk
"The Athlete" (Ethiopia), Directors: Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew
"Steam of Life" (Finland), Directors: Joonas Berghall and Mika Hotakainen
"Of Gods and Men" (France), Director: Xavier Beauvois
"Street Days" (Georgia), Director: Levan Koguashvili
"When We Leave" (Germany), Director: Feo Aladag
"Nuummioq" (Greenland), Directors: Otto Rosing and Torben Bech
"Bibliotheque Pascal" (Hungary), Director: Szabolcs Hajdu
"Peepli Live" (India), Director: Anusha Rizvi
"Son of Babylon" (Iraq), Director: Mohamed Al-Daradji
"The Human Resources Manager" (Israel), Director: Eran Riklis
"The First Beautiful Thing" (Italy), Director: Paolo Virzi
"Confessions" (Japan), Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
"The Light Thief" (Kyrgyzstan), Director: Aktan Arym Kubat
"The Angel" (Norway), Director: Margreth Olin
"Undertow" (Peru), Director: Javier Fuentes-Leon
"Noy" (Philippines), Directors: Dondon S. Santos and Rodel Nacianceno
"All That I Love" (Poland), Director: Jacek Borcuch
"If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle" (Romania), Director: Florin Serban
"The Edge" (Russia), Director: Alexey Uchitel
"Solemn Promise" (Serbia), Director: Srdjan Karanovic
"The Border" (Slovakia), Director: Jaroslav Vojtek
"9:06" (Slovenia), Director: Igor Sterk
"Life, Above All" (South Africa), Director: Oliver Schmitz
"A Barefoot Dream" (South Korea), Director: Tae-kyun Kim
"Even the Rain" (Spain), Director: Iciar Bollain
"Simple Simon" (Sweden), Director: Andreas Ohman
"The Little Room" (Switzerland), Directors: Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond
"Monga" (Taiwan), Director: Chen-zer Niu
"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Thailand), Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
"Honey" (Turkey), Director: Semih Kaplanoglu
"Hermano" (Venezuela) Director: Marcel Rasquin

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