A semi-local film made its world debut on Saturday, Jan. 4, as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival—and 3 Nights in the Desert may very well go beyond the festival circuit, thanks in large part to its strong cast.
Three friends—Travis (Wes Bentley, The Hunger Games), Anna (Amber Tamblyn, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Barry (Vincent Piazza, Boardwalk Empire)—were once in a band together. Their birthdays are all within three days, and after not seeing each other for years, they decide to meet in the desert at Travis’ home for their 30th birthdays. Travis meets Barry at the train station; on the drive to Travis’ home, Barry expresses discomfort about the fact that Anna will be coming.
Anna and Barry seem to have moved on after the band’s breakup. Barry is married and a tax attorney in Seattle; Anna is enjoying a successful music career as a dream-pop artist. Then there’s Travis—living in a makeshift house in the middle of the desert.
A specific event in their past haunts all three of them. Travis has a big scar on his neck and a limp; Anna and Barry discuss how Anna did all she could for Travis—only giving a hint about what really happened.
After a bonfire discussion (that includes a lot of masturbation talk), Barry and Anna find themselves being led to a cave by Travis. Travis claims that when you enter the dark cave, all of your desires will come true. Anna goes in first and comes out frightened. Barry enters next, and emerges basically unaffected.
After a moment in which the three former bandmates sing one of their songs together, the film becomes a deep, dark roller-coaster ride down memory lane. All is revealed about what tore them apart—and Travis’ real reasons for bringing them together.
3 Nights in the Desert is an intense psychological drama. Thanks in part to deep dialogue, the film never gets dull or falls flat during its 90-minute runtime.
During the post-screening Q&A session, director Gabriel Cowan, screenwriter Adam Chanzit and Piazza talked about filming 3 Nights in the high desert, near Lancaster. Amber Tamblyn—who was snowed in and could not make it to Palm Springs—also took part in the Q&A via Skype from New York.
Chanzit said he felt the desert was the perfect place for the story.
“I like the remoteness of the desert,” Chanzit said. “I really wanted these characters to exist kind of outside of time and space. … I really like the idea of them being isolated.”