What a wonderful way to start off the New Year every January here in Palm Springs, California. No sooner than we have finished with Christmas and New Year celebrations, we get down to the nitty gritty of what life is all about—MOVIES.
January 2nd saw the opening of the 26th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival. I imagine when the festival began 26 years ago, the event was small, disorganized and actually didn’t know where it was headed or what it was all about. That has certainly changed since then. This year over 130,000 people are attending, 208 screenings of over 190 films from 55 countries. The town has turned into pre-Oscar headquarters. I imagine in the early days, they were lucky to get any name to attend. This year anyone hoping to be mentioned for Oscar consideration arrived to attend the weekend opening festivities. Awards are handed out and in its own way the festival has become a mini-precursor to the real thing in a couple of months. So the town was literally overflowing with name people this past weekend.
As is my custom, I bought a “six pack” of tickets. This means you get six screenings for the price of 5. The trick is you have to buy them before the festival begins. I find that six films is just right for me. I overheard someone the other day say she was limiting herself to four films per day. I simply could not do such an assembly line of life on film. I think I would OD.
This year a problem reared its head in my “six pick” plans. Generally I go to the box office, stand in line, hand the cashier a list of the films I want to see and that’s it. Occasionally one would be sold out but I would have a couple of extras choices. Not this year. I went three days before the festival opened and it took me 22 tries to get my six tickets in hand.
What was wrong? Too many people and most of them buying their tickets via the internet. I ended up securing a ticket to only one of the films I originally had in my six-pack plan and that was a documentary called THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER. So, the other films could only be classified as “cinema karma.”
I have seen five of my picks, which leaves the Outrageous Sophie coming up next Saturday. I felt vey lucky to have gotten that ticket. It’s quite possible had the film been called The Outrageous Lady Gaga it would have been a pre-festival sellout like my other picks.
So how did my five “chance” films turn out?
The first film I saw was shown at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium which seats a thousand people and every seat was taken. The film was called WILD TALES, which is from Argentina. It was written and directed by a young 39-year old up-and- coming director, Damian Szitron. This film is produced by Pedro Almovodor . It consists of six stories of current life. I must say I have not been so entertained at a film in I don’t know when. The entire audience laughed and applauded constantly. It was a big crowd pleaser this past year at the Cannes Film Festival. I had the opportunity to chat with the director after the film. I asked him why he had chosen the title WILD TALES. He replied that each of us has a wild beast inside us that will come charging out if life paints us into a corner. The film will be released later in the year. I left the auditorium thinking that I would not see anything better at this festival. Serendipity was certainly in my corner in getting a ticket to see this film.
The second film I saw was FUTURO BEACH, a German-Brazilian film about surfers and motorcyclists, who migrate from Brazil to Germany. Serendipity was definitely not with me here as the person who sat next to me said when it was over, “What was that all about?” Yes, it was a moody, guess-what-I’m-thinking sort of film.
The third film was named SAINT LAURENT and it was about the ultra famous and rich clothing designer Yves Saint Laurent. Here we see a young man who is extremely talented and at a very early age has fame and fortune dumped into his lap. Success became a total catastrophe for him due to drugs, alcohol, sex and too many sycophants. For those who are dreaming of success, fame and fortune, this film makes you realize that all Yves Saint Laurent got in the end was spiritual dislocation. It was a pretty good film but a tad too long. Paris though has never looked so good.
The fourth film was DUHKTAR, a Pakistani film directed by a young lady named Afia Nathaniel. This was a labor-of-love film in that it took her ten years to get the funds together to do the film. The story is an interesting one. A mother and her 10-year-old daughter flee their home on the eve of the girl’s arranged wedding to an aging tribal leader. A deadly hunt for them begins so they can be executed. This is the director’s real life story. I’m glad I saw it. I wouldn’t have without the six-pick snafu.
The fifth film was BACK ON BOARD, a documentary about the Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. Another fame story with dire consequences. Even though he established diving records which have yet to be broken, he was not only gay but HIV positive. Instead of living a charmed life due to his many accomplishments as an athlete, he has lived mainly from hand to mouth over the last twenty plus years. This film shows what a talented and kind person he is but how his major tragedy was being gay before it was accepted in the athletic world. Most athletes of renown at the time got great sign-up deals with products like Wheaties, etc. He got none because of being gay. A powerful film showing the effects of bigotry in our society.
So all in all, I’ll have to say that serendipity did provide me with a good experience this time round at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.