One of the staples of Palm Springs film culture is returning: The Palm Springs International ShortFest will be back—and in-person—for its 27th year, from June 22-28.

Festival passes are on sale now; the schedule will be released in early June, with individual tickets going on sale at that time.

ShortFest will be slightly smaller this year than it was during its last in-person iteration in 2019, said Liliana Rodriguez, the festival’s artistic director. She talked about how much the festival has grown over the years.

“The first edition of the festival was in 1995,” Rodriguez said during a recent phone interview. “There were around 80 short films that were available, and I think you could pay $5 to watch all of the films. It started pretty low-key; before then, they would only show short films during the bigger festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival. … Now we do more than 300 short films a year. This year, we’re a little bit under 300, because we’re looking at all of the COVID protocols and making sure that we’re not screening things too close to each other.”

Rodriguez said safety is very much on the minds of festival organizers this year.

“We’re basically doing everything that the Camelot Theatres requires,” said Rodriguez. “We’re going to be requiring masks for entry and masks at any popular point, like the concession stand and the bathrooms. We’re going to be encouraging mask-wearing, but once you go in, if you’re sitting in your seat and you have snacks, it’s kind of like a restaurant, so you’re able to take your mask off. We, of course, are going to have some hand-sanitizer stations—but the biggest difference is going to be in how many things we’re playing. The last time we did in-person events, we did well over 56 programs. This year, we’re doing 50, including opening and closing nights. Things are just a little bit more spread out.”

The festival’s parties are being handled differently this year as well.

“Usually, every night of the festival, we have a big ShortFest party; we invite the filmmakers and industry, and we all meet in one place,” Rodriguez said. “This year, we’re going to choose a handful of bars and restaurants—places that are close to each other—each night, and we’re going to send people to these places. Hopefully, that’s also a way to bring back some more business into the downtown area in Palm Springs. It’ll be a little different, but it’ll still have a lot of good energy and be fun.”

While the films will be screened in-person, the festival’s panels and classes will be held virtually.

“The panels and classes have been around since the second edition, in 1996,” Rodriguez said. “… Because we are doing in-person screenings, we want to focus 100% on doing that to our best abilities, and then the forums can be virtual. In that way, filmmakers and people who can’t attend in person will have a chance to participate. I think it is great for accessibility.”

Even in the dark days of 2020, Rodriguez said she and her team were preparing to be back in the theater for ShortFest 2021.

“We haven’t really stopped preparing,” said Rodriguez. “Even before our last (virtual) edition in 2020, we figured that at some point, we were going to be back in the theaters, so we’ve been thinking about that plan. In the end, it wasn’t a scramble, because our plan was always to pretend that we were going to be able to do this in person. Because we were able to do that, we knew that we would be looking at a program that is slightly smaller.”

I asked Rodriguez if that smaller program made the selection process more difficult.

“We’re only doing about 30 fewer (shorts),” she said. “We’re a short-specific festival, so we have way more room than Sundance or South by Southwest, which do about 70 films. Even with such a large number that we can do, there are always things that stay behind. … The more we watch, the more we try to fit one in here and there. It’s a natural thing that happens every year, even with a lineup as big as ours.”

While the schedule was not available as of our press time, Rodriguez promised that the program would be incredible.

“We’re really choosing the movies that either are excellent movies by themselves, and we know that audiences are going to love them, or we’re choosing movies that are great, but there’s also something about the filmmaker that we want to make sure we can champion,” she said. “… The program is really informed by the format, and we’re really just choosing the movies that speak to the programming team. That’s one of the really nice things about programming for ShortFest—the movies really do speak for themselves.”

Palm Springs International ShortFest 2021 will take place from Tuesday, June 22, through Monday, June 28, at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. For more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org/2021-shortfest.

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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