Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Every January, the desert gets a dose of Hollywood-awards-season glamour with the Palm Springs International Film Festival. This will be its 31st year, and the event is larger than ever, boasting estimated audiences of more than 135,000 and attracting cinephiles from all over the globe.

This year, screenings begin on Friday, Jan. 3, and go through Monday, Jan. 13—and the 2020 version of the festival will have a little more of a local flair.

The reason: The festival’s first-year artistic director, Liliana Rodriguez, is a Coachella Valley native, and she’s making sure the festival’s local roots remain interwoven into its DNA.

“Recently, I’ve been focusing on injecting more of a local feel into the festival with more films in Local Spotlight, as well the new local jury,” she said.

The Local Spotlight film program has expanded this year to feature three films: The 11th Green, House of Cardin and Iconicity. All three films have a distinct style and offer unique perspectives from hometown filmmakers, bringing the relationship between community and festival closer together.

“Locals love the festival and look forward to it every year,” Rodriguez said. “Being a Coachella Valley native myself, it only makes sense to make it something that (locals) can be a part of as well as take pride in.”

The Annenberg Theater, the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, Palm Springs High School, the Regal Cinemas Palm Springs, the Palm Canyon Theatre and Mary Pickford Is D’Place will host more than 500 screenings of more than 180 films, across every genre, during the festival run.

“I work really closely with our six programmers, who travel the world to find movies for our audience,” Rodriguez said. “There is a lot of discussion about what movies we felt would make a great fit. It is another beast having to schedule all the films. Programming for a film festival is very intense, but always rewarding when you see it all come together.”

One of Rodriguez’s favorite PSIFF programs this year is the Gay!la program. “We’re showing Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which I often think about out of the blue, even if I saw it first months ago,” she said. “After that, we have Gay Chorus Deep South, a really powerful documentary.”

With more than 180 films in the festival, Rodriguez said it is hard to select just a few must-watch films. “Some personal favorites are Pain and Glory from the great Pedro Almodóvar; First Love for genre fans; and Song Without a Name for something that will stick with you for a long time after you leave the theater.”

Rodriguez said that while the festival features a lot of glitz and glamour, it also has a lot of events that are meant to please true film-lovers—including some events that are free and open to the public.

“Here at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, there’s an emphasis on making sure that all attendees leave with something memorable,” she said.

One particularly interesting free event is “Shortlisted: Best International Feature Film Panel,” taking place at the Annenberg Theater at 4:45 p.m., Monday, Jan. 6. The event will feature a discussion with directors whose films are on the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film.

For first-time festival goers, Rodriguez recommends checking out the festival’s website, as well as the social-media picks each day—or they can take a different approach, and just pick something spontaneously.

“Some of my favorite stories are from people who tell me they went into a movie totally blind and loved it!” she said.

“It starts with the movies for me, so I really hope people will find something they really connect with. There are so many films from all over the world. Bringing those films to our festival-goers and having them experience the stories they bring has always been the goal.”

The Palm Springs International Film Festival takes place from Friday, Jan. 3, through Monday, Jan. 13, at various venues. Tickets to individual films are $13, starting for the general public on Friday, Dec. 20; six-pack tickets are $69. For tickets or more information, visit

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