Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about the awards gala that occurred a few weeks ago in Los Angeles.
Darryl Macdonald: Every year at the festival we open with our Black Tie Awards Gala. The reception we hosted in Los Angeles a few weeks ago provides the annual opening announcement of the coming year’s festival, focusing on the themes and highlights planned for the upcoming festival, and also provides the announcement of the Festival’s Black Tie Awards Gala honoree for our Rising Star Award: honoring young actors or actresses who have already made an impact on the film industry through their work. This year’s reception honored Anna Kendrick from Jason Reitman’s upcoming Up in the Air. She’s an amazing talent, having caught critics’ eyes with great performances in Camp (2003), Rocket Science (2007) and last year’s Twilight; she actually got her start on Broadway when she was twelve, winning a Tony and Drama Desk nomination for her first stage role in High Society. It was wonderful to have her at the Los Angeles event. Each year, we seek out exceptional work by Hollywood-based talent, celebrating their accomplishments at our Awards Gala. Palm Springs is known as a great festival for international film, but we also salute the best of domestic filmmaking at our opening event. Some of our past Awards Gala guests have included Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn and Clint Eastwood, among many others. The Awards Gala is also the unofficial kickoff of the awards season which launches each year around new years. So, this is kind of a precursor to the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Since that reception, of course, we’ve also announced that Morgan Freeman will be receiving our Career Achievement Award (in connection with his role as Nelson Mandela in the upcoming Invictus) and to Jason Reitman (Juno) for his writing and direction of this year’s Up in the Air. Stay tuned – more announcements are yet to come.
BT: Here at our publication, we call the Palm Spring International Film Festival a festival with character and attitude. Is that an appropriate title for the festival?
DM: There’s no question! It’s a huge event, and the festival should always be larger than the sum of its parts. We want to expose American film-goers to new faces, new ideas and new points of view. Diverse viewpoints are a particular strength of this Festival, with films from 70 different countries included,and films of political, social, and cultural stripes included. I believe that any international film festival should provide something for everyone – every type of filmgoer, and should be programmed to provide opportunities for people to expand their understanding of our world – in addition to entertaining them. Every year I think we get better at what we do, and given the fact that it is one of the largest film festivals in the country, we have the breadth of programming to accomplish what we set out to do.
BT: A great thing about the international film festival is that audiences are eager to see the many international films that are shown. How would you describe the audience that comes to your festivals?
DM: One recent example of our audience’s astuteness and openness is our screenings last year of the Japanese film Departures. The very first screening last year sold out and turned away over 100 people. We added two extra screenings of the film, in addition to the two that had already been scheduled, and the crowds got successively larger each time. This was an unknown movie that arrived here with no advance ‘buzz’, and it went on to win the Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film last year. So I think that that says a lot about the sensitivity of the audience here; when they see something special, they go out and talk about it, and that word spreads exponentially. There are so few opportunities for foreign language films to see the light of day in the American market, so in many cases across the country the only opportunity that audiences have to see these films would be through film festivals like ours.
BT: It also seems as though you are changing the face of Palm Springs in a way through the Palm Springs Film Society. Please tell us a little about it.
DM: The Film Society, which is the Festival’s mothership organization, presents year round advance screenings of upcoming releases – many with their directors attending for post-screening discussions. We are currently running a series of First Films by some of the world’s best known directors, part of a series of thematic programs we mount each year to explore film history. We also have a year-round series of educational programs – Behind the Scenes – bringing in experts working in all the different crafts involved in movie making, for extensive discussions (often with film clips) about the art of making films. We try to present a wide range of viewing options aimed at enriching the cultural landscape of Palm Springs and the knowledge of those who truly love cinema.
BT: Thank you and we wish you the best success with the 2010 festival.