It’s rare experience for an audience to spontaneously break into full-throated laughter or even applause in the middle of a movie—but such visceral reactions were frequent during the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Student Screening Day, on Monday, Jan. 13.
More than 1,000 students from nine valley high schools were selected by teachers and administrators to fill the auditorium at the Palm Springs High School on the final day of this year’s film festival for screenings of Wadjda and The Crash Reel. They also participated in Q&A sessions after each showing.
“It’s been a sensational day,” said PSIFF director Darryl Macdonald. “I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of our audience today, this film (Wadjda) was the first subtitled film they’ve ever seen. … It teaches them how people of their generation live on a day-to-day basis in Saudi Arabia—and their response was just overwhelmingly wonderful.”
For the film’s writer and director, Haifaa al-Mansour, the student audience’s vociferous support of her film helped make the struggles she endured while making the film in her native Saudi Arabia worthwhile.
“My country is segregated,” said al-Mansour. “It doesn’t allow a woman to be on the streets. So if the Saudis don’t want women in the streets, then I’ll make the film from a van with a monitor and a walkie-talkie. But I don’t think they like me to make the film as well—so here we go.”
Did she model the film’s rebellious and hyper-entrepreneurial title character after herself?
“I’m shy. I’m not a hustler like Wadjda,” said al-Mansour. “My niece is amazing, and I based the character on her. She’s always scheming some way to make money. She’ll never take no for an answer. I grew up with girls like that who have great potential, but they give up and become conservative, because this is the way society wants them.”
Bank of America is the sponsor for the educational day.
“We’ve been doing this day for six years,” said Al Arguello, the Inland Empire’s market president. “It’s the highlight of our annual sponsorship, because we’re able to expose over 1,000 students in the Coachella Valley to the art of film-making.”
Macdonald said it was a special day for everyone involved.
“This is exactly what our student screening day is all about: opening (students’) eyes to the world and giving them an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with these filmmakers, and ask penetrating questions that are inspired by the movies.”