Michael Childers

The Palm Springs International Shortfest accepts submissions from filmmakers around the world—so it’s always special when a local filmmaker joins in the fun.

Therefore, it was a lot of fun to see Desert Magazine editor Mary Silverman’s film, Hollywood in the Desert Sky, included as part of the “Extraordinary People” program at the Camelot Theatres on Wednesday, June 18.

The festival continues through Monday, June 23.

Hollywood in the Desert Sky is a 17-minute short on the life of local photographer Michael Childers. Childers’ work has been featured in the Natural Portrait Gallery, among other museums. He was a contributor to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and was a photographer on the sets of Terminator, Grease, and Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Silverman told the Independent that the interview she did with Childers several months ago offered her an opportunity.

“I’ve been making documentaries for my entire career,” Silverman said. “I’m currently the editor of Desert Magazine, and I did a story for my January issue on Michael Childers. It was a pretty extraordinary opportunity, and I didn’t want it to pass by without getting it on tape. I worked with a local production company to do a three-camera shoot, and from there, we had a documentary—and got it into the Shortfest.”

Silverman said Childers is a perfect subject for a documentary.

“Michael Childers has a pretty extraordinary story,” Silverman said. “He has a long career as a photographer for print and for many different magazines in Paris, London and the United States. He was the longtime partner of John Schlesinger, who directed Midnight Cowboy, and his images are iconic of 20th century culture.”

The shoot for the documentary was done in one unbroken interview, Silverman said.

“I didn’t stop, start, do retakes or any of that. It was shot as if it were running live. It was a sit-down interview and a candid walk-and-talk interview. I don’t know how long the interview was, but I’d say we had cameras rolling for about an hour.”

How do you turn a one-hour interview into a 17-minute short?

“I knew going into it exactly what my story was going to be,” Silverman said. “I knew that it probably wasn’t going to be more than about 20 minutes long. I’ve been doing this for about 25 years—actually longer, if you consider my academic career before that—and you just know what your story is going into it. … Your fine-tuned experience helps you edit it into a piece.”

She said that Childers’ images and the score helped the film become truly special.

“We had access to a treasure trove of Michael’s photographic images. It was just the best of all worlds,” Silverman said. “I also reached out to a dear family friend, Harry Gregson-Williams, who is a very well-known film composer. I asked him if he might be interested in helping me out in this piece. Harry was very gracious to compose something.”

She said she was surprised the film was selected.

“Some filmmakers have submitted to the festival prior, so they have a very finished piece to submit. Mine wasn’t, and it was just a surprise to me,” she said. “I didn’t even think about it. It was Michael Childers: I showed him the cut, and he was the one who suggested I turn it in for the festival.”

The hard work paid off. During the screening on Wednesday, the short was well-received. In fact, Silverman said she may turn the film into a feature-length documentary.

“It screened perfectly,” Silverman said. “You don’t know how it translates when it’s shown on the big screen, and it was beautiful. We had a very large crowd; we were in Theater 1 at the Camelot, which is the largest theater. … We received a very nice response and great comments from people afterward.”

The Palm Springs International Shortfest continues through Monday, June 23. For tickets, a complete schedule and more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org.

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Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...