Palm Springs International ShortFest Short Film Festival is one of the most amazing film events on our planet, where you witness the future of cinema and the birth of new, great filmmakers. Palm Springs International ShortFest Market also opens new horizons for filmmakers, who are given opportunities to create more movies.
Now in its 17th year, the Palm Springs International ShortFest has become known world-wide for the extraordinary community of filmmakers it attracts, and for the quality and scope of its programming.
To learn more about 2011 Palm Springs International ShortFest Short Film Festival and Market, we had an interview with Darryl Macdonald, director of the festival.
Bijan Tehrani: How different will be this year’s Palm Springs International ShortFest Short Film Festival and Market comparing to past years? Of course they have been all very exciting.
Darryl Macdonald: I think quite honestly it is the strongest short film line up that we have ever had; it‘s remarkable not least because the line-up encompasses more countries than ever before – fully fifty countries at this year’s ShortFest, whereas normally we cover forty or so countries, and one of the most striking things about the line-up this year is the number of films that we have from previously underrepresented areas, like South America and the Middle East, along with many films from countries that we have never had participate before in ShortFest. Regarding the films I mentioned from the Middle East, this year we are showcasing films from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, in addition to Israel, and they are collectively a group of remarkable and eye-opening films. They are striking especially because they don’t so much deal with the Arab/Israeli situation or the war or terrorism; they deal with people’s everyday lives and give us insight into the way people live in the middle east, rather than the television clichés we’re used to seeing. It is remarkable how vivid these films are and how well made they are.
BT: I feel that it is very necessary to see people in their ordinary lives in order to understand what they are going through.
DM: That is precisely the point, instead of being dogmatic these films give us insight into the way that people live and what they have to cope with on a day to day basis, and I truly believe those kinds of insights always lead to a clearer understanding and embracing of peoples and cultures that are far away from our own experience.
BT: How challenging and difficult was it to pick the films to screen in the festival?
DM: Well it is always difficult because there are so many worthy films. This year we had over 3,000 submissions and of those, we have 331 films selected to play the official line up at the Festival – essentially we are skimming the cream of the crop, but there were at least 300 or 400 more submissions that were well worthy of being presented at this year’s festival – it inevitably comes down to making choices. It’s always the most difficult part of what we do, but a key element of our jobs is to pick a wide variety of genres, themes and filmmaking styles, so we have a representative line up what is going on in the world of short films right now.
BT: The filmmakers that are attending the festival as guests, who can we expect to see this year?
DM: The number of filmmaking guests we will have attending this year to represent their films is through the roof – we will have many more than we have ever had before; at this point there are roughly 345 filmmakers confirmed to be coming from countries all over the world, including Egypt, Iceland, Iran, Brazil, Poland, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel and the Netherlands, as well as the usual large numbers from France, the U.K., Australia, Canada and the US. A large number of filmmakers who do not have films in the Festival will also be attending the event this year. They come to ShortFest to participate in the Film Market and seminar programs or to watch the films themselves.
BT: What do you feel about the mood of films coming from Europe and Latin America?
DM: The mood of the films is somewhat different than what we have seen in the last three or four years – in ways more introspective and simultaneously lighter than those that have preceded them. We are seeing many more comedies in the line-up – ranging from dark comedies to flat-out farcical romps. We are also seeing a kind of wave of films from all over the world that deal with issues that Americans are very familiar with today – for example unemployment, multi-nationalism, the reinvention of our sense of family. Instead of seeing the large number of films about war issues and strife and conflict and terrorism that we’d been seeing in the last decade or so, there is a shift to stories that deal with more day-to-day human concerns. There is also more genre filmmaking evident – a lot more in the way of mysteries, thrillers, coming-of-age stories, science fiction and films noir in this year’s line-up. The documentary offerings stand out in particular this year – taking us to exotic locales and introducing us to remarkable characters that we really haven’t seen on screen before. The animated entries have a darker, wicked edge to them, many of them employing wry humor or eccentric characters to tell their stories.
BT: What about the events that are happening at the festival like seminars or gatherings?
DM: Well as always we will have a terrific line up of panels and master classes devoted to the art of filmmaking in general, with programs focusing on camera work – in particular the new digital technology choices available to filmmakers; screenwriting, with a bent towards the politics and business of storytelling; innovative ways of raising funding for films, and so on. We’ll also have panels featuring film critics, including representatives from some key trade journals, like Indiewire, Variety, The Wrap, The Hollywood Reporter and Screen International; one panel made up of programmers from key festivals and film programs including the Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, Hamptons, Seattle and Chicago Festivals. And another panel made up of key players in the agent, management and production fields. So we expect the panels and seminars to be terrific this year. Apart from that, of course, are the parties and receptions which take place nightly and which include all of the filmmaking guests in town, the post-screening Q&A’s with filmmakers and the myriad gatherings and late-night revelry which may not be on the formal schedule but which enrich the event enormously. This year, for instance, there’ll be a nightly late-night gathering at the Ace Hotel, which is hosting a kind of after-hours hangout for filmmakers and attendees throughout the Festival.
BT: What prizes and awards will be handed out this year?
DM: We have over $118,000 in cash, goods and services being presented among our awards this year, along with the Festival’s Jury Awards, which make the winning short films in four categories automatically eligible for submission to AMPAS for Oscar consideration. (80 films presented at ShortFest in its first 16 years have gone on to garner Oscar nominations). All told, there are twenty seven different awards presented in 17 categories – including Cinema Without Borders’ Bridging The Border Award, (A HP Mobile Workstation, Prize and promotional support provided by HP) which we’re delighted to be featuring once again this year.
BT: Thank you for your time.