As the Palm Springs International Film Festival enters its closing weekend, honorees gathered for the fest's traditional awards brunch to recognize some of the highlights from its 27th annual incarnation.
In Spencer's Restaurant at the base of the valley's mountains, a cross-section of top festival attendees gathered for a meal where seven of the program's 180 features were singled out for various achievements. PSIFF Artistic Director and acting Festival Director Helen Du Toit welcomed the gathered guests. Commending the festival's programming staff, she mentioned that this was the first year that all of the Academy's Best Foreign Film shortlisted titles were part of the PSIFF slate, with all directors in attendance.
The first prize of the afternoon, the HP Bridging the Borders Award, traditionally goes to a film that uses film to tell stories of understanding and cross-cultural cooperation. Presented by Cinema without Borders and HP, this year's recipient was the Indian film "Umrika." Director Prashant Nair was on hand to accept the award, expressing that the award was proof of the film achieving its desired effect.
"We made the film with the intention of having an impact," Nair said.
Documentary programmer Ken Jacobson introduced the bestowers of the John Schlesinger Award. Named for the "Midnight Cowboy" director who began his career in the documentary realm, this year's jury was comprised of International Documentary Association Executive Director Simon Kilmurry, Independent Lens Founder Lois Vossen and filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz. Vossen announced the winner as "The Birth of Saké," handing the prize to director Erik Shirai. Holding the significantly-sized Kennedy statue, Shirai dedicated his award to his fellow documentary filmmakers.
The New Voices/New Visions award, given to the top debut film making its U.S. premiere at the festival, went to Xavier Seron's "Death by Death." The jury, represented at the brunch by Oscilloscope's Dan Berger and Visit Films' Ryan Kampe and on behalf of Cohen Media's Gary Rubin, also commended a special jury mention to Raam Reddy for his film "Thithi."
Rounding out the festivities, the FIPRESCI representatives, Jon Asp and Derek Malcolm in conjunction with fellow critic Jose Teodoro, who could not be in attendance, awarded their Best Foreign Language Film of the Year prize to Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Assassin." Malcolm took the moment to note the film's absence from the recent Academy shortlist as a glaring omission, adding, "I don't think there's been a more beautiful film in the last few years."
The trio also awarded the Best Actor prize to Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson, the lead pair from Grimur Hakonarson's festival favorite "Rams." Reading the jury's statement, Asp described that the two were being recognized partly for "the graceful way in which they guided their characters from animosity to interdependence."
Best Actress went to Alena Mihulová for her lead role as a nurse in Slávek Horák's "Home Care." Horák was present to accept the award, noting that this is a triumphant return for Mihulová, who has largely absent from the screen for nearly three decades.
"I know she will cry when I call her," a visibly delighted Horák explained.
The Audience Awards for the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will be announced tomorrow evening at the Closing Night screening of Jeremy Sims' "Last Cab to Darwin."
[UPDATE: On Sunday, the Mercedes Benz Audience Awards were announced, with Giulio Ricciarelli's "Labyrinth of Lies" taking home the Narrative prize and "Everything is Copy" claiming top audience honors in the Documentary category.]