The Palm Springs International Film Festival, now underway in sunny Southern California, held its annual awards brunch this morning to honor the best of its extensive, wide-reaching, two-week film lineup of 196 films from 65 countries — including 51 of the record-setting 83 foreign language entries for this year’s Oscars.
Hosted at the cozy, mountainside Spencer’s Restaurant, the low-key awards ceremony drew press, industry, filmmakers and media affiliates, with opening remarks from festival director Darryl Macdonald who noted the overall outstanding quality of this year’s crop of films.
First up, the John Schlesinger Award for outstanding first documentary feature—presented by jurors Gaylene Preston and Larry Weinstein, whose co-juror Greg Barker couldn’t make it today—went to Eliza Kubarska’s story of an ocean diver, “Walking Under Water.” The film “is a masterful, lush meditation of an unknown world that reveals a strong humanity while pushing the boundaries of filmmaking,” said Preston.
Oscar shortlisted “Corn Island,” a near wordless film directed by George Ovashvili from Georgia, received the HP Bridging the Borders Award, presented by Cinema Without Borders and Hewlett Packard. From Kosovo, “Three Windows and a Hanging,” directed by Isa Qosja, won the Cinema Without Borders Special Jury Award. The director receives a certificate for a method acting workshop provided by The Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute.
The New Voices/New Visions Award jury selected Serbian film “No One’s Child,” directed by Vuk Rsumovic, which is told from the POV of a feral boy encountering society for the first time. Special mentions went to “Fidelio, Alice’s Journey,” a French feature from director Lucie Borleteau. Films were juried by Broad Green Pictures’ Daniel Hammond, Danielle Digiacomo of The Orchard and Random Media’s Eric Doctorow.
Comprised of critics Ella Taylor, Michael Oleszcyk and Ernesto Diezmartinez Guzman, the 2015 Palm Springs FIPRESCI jury chose three 2014 favorites, all Cannes premieres, from the 51 Foreign Oscar films that screened at PSIFF. Anne Dorval deservedly won the Best Actress prize for her electric performance in Xavier Dolan’s Oscar-snubbed “Mommy,” and Haluk Bilginer won Best Actor for his restrained, quietly building work in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner “Winter Sleep.”
Accepting the prize for “Winter Sleep” was Jeff Lipsky of distributor Adopt Films, which bravely released this nearly 200-minute, unforgettable Turkish drama in select US theaters at the tail-end of 2014. “I’m not a big fan of the democratization of awards: ‘Mommy’ was the best foreign film I saw this year. It should win picture and actress!” he said, before offering a moving tribute to the late Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., who died Friday at the age of 88.
Oscar contender “Leviathan,” Russia’s powerful, anti-establishment entry for Best Foreign Language Film, won FIPRESCI’s Best Film prize, unsurprisingly. This is a dyed-in-the-wool critics’ picture that will hopefully start reaching more audiences as Sony Pictures Classics continues to roll the film out in coming weeks.
Finally, the Cine Latino Award went to the Spanish feature “Flowers,” directed by Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga, “for its melancholy and poignant multilevel exploration of romance and remembrance.” The Special Mention went to “Not All Is Vigil,” a Spanish/Colombian coproduction directed by Hermes Paralluelo.