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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Dwight Hendricks

The year was 2008. The economy was imploding; Coldplay’s Viva la Vida was the No. 1 album in the world; and United States voters elected a guy named Barack Obama as president.

Meanwhile, here in the Coachella Valley, the Palm Springs Cultural Center held the first Cinema Diverse, the valley’s LGBT film festival.

The 10th anniversary edition of the festival takes place Sept. 21-24.

Michael Green is the festival director and the executive director of the Cultural Center. He talked about the process he goes through to select films for the festival.

“I work with all the independent film distributors who specialize in LGBT films, as well as others,” he said. “I pretty much screen films year-around. Films also come in to us from directors, many we have worked with before. We don’t show anything that is out commercially.”

Palm Springs’ proximity to Hollywood is a boon to Cinema Diverse.

“It’s wonderful,” Green said. “The beauty of being so close is (many of) the filmmakers come out to the festival. We have been so fortunate the past few years, where we have up to 80 percent representation … by someone involved in the film itself.”

This is the 10th Cinema Diverse—and Green has made big plans to celebrate the milestone. The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin is going to be the opening-night movie on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Tales of the City scribe Armistead Maupin himself will be in attendance. Copies of his new memoir will also be available, before the official release date in October.

“Luckily, Armistead loves Palm Springs, and his schedule worked out so he can come here to be a part of the festival,” Green said. “We are working with (Palm Springs store) Just Fabulous to help out, where people can purchase his new book and have it signed.”

Beyond opening night, Cinema Diverse will have many highlights, Green said.

“We are going to have a couple of special 10th anniversary screenings from Here Media,” he said. “Sheltered is one of the first movies produced by Here Media 10 years ago. This is only available in this festival—no others. Here Media is one the festival’s sponsors, so we are hoping to have not just the director, but the cast, too, on Saturday (Sept. 23).

“We are also going to be having a documentary called Laughing Matters … The Men,” featuring various gay comedians—which was filmed at Palm Springs Pride. “Not only is this a 10th anniversary screening, but the director, Andrea Meyerson, has a new short named One Way Street, which will also be screening at the festival. We love to do a lot of shorts at Cinema Diverse.”

The festival is also expanding to a second weekend, sort of: While Cinema Diverse will take place at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City will host the Best of Fest on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30.

“Last year, we expanded what we were doing (by hosting films at the Desert Cinema, the former IMAX theater) in Cathedral City,” Green said. “This year, Cathedral City asked us to return. We asked the Mary Pickford, and they were very interested. We also decided this year to move this part of the festival to the week after, so it wouldn’t pull away from the festival consistency. The Best of Fest will show the best films and help accommodate film-goers who may have missed the first showings during the festival.”

Cinema Diverse includes every genre of LGBT-related films one can imagine. However, Green admitted a fondness for the festival’s slate of documentaries.

“This year, we have most of our documentaries focusing on the LGBTQ communities in various places around the world,” Green said. “Films from Iraq, Iran, Russia or South Africa work as a reminder that we are so fortunate to live in our bubble of Palm Springs. It’s a reminder how dangerous the rest of the world is, and how there is still so much work to be done to make the world a safe place.”

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. The Best of Fest takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30, at the Mary Pickford Theatre, 36850 Pickfair St., in Cathedral City. Pass prices vary; individual screenings are $13.25. For more information, visit cinemadiverse.org.

The dog days of August are here, so it’s a great time to get the heck out of the valley—and while doing so, you can enjoy some cool mountain air and take in some great music.

Idyllwild Arts’ annual Jazz in the Pines festival takes place Friday, Aug. 11, through Sunday, Aug. 13. John Newman, the event chair and director of business operations for Idyllwild Arts, filled me in on the event’s history.

“This is the 24th annual Jazz in the Pines Festival,” he said. “It was started by the legendary Marshall Hawkins, along with Lin Carlson and Barbara Wood. They created the festival for three reasons: to preserve the heritage of jazz music in America, to provide a venue for friends and colleagues, and most importantly, to provide scholarship money for students to attend the Idyllwild (Arts) Academy.”

How did a town of less than 4,000 people end up with not only a festival, but the Idyllwild Arts Academy?

“The program was started in 1946 as a summer program by Max and Bee Krone. Max was the dean of Music at USC,” Newman said. “The goal was to create a place where people of all backgrounds could come together and, through the universal language of arts and music, inspire and create together. Then maybe they would stop killing each other.”

The summer programs are designed to be open to everyone, of all talents and ages. Later, Idyllwild Arts founded the Idyllwild Arts Academy high school.

“This is a global commitment,” he said about the academy. “Of 310 students who attend … these are independent young people who travel from around the world to come to a small town on top of a mountain in the southern part of California. These kids are so dedicated to their craft, they don’t even care that there is no cellular reception there.”

All of the festival’s proceeds go to Idyllwild Arts, and the festival offers three stages with simultaneous performances. The main stage will offer more traditional jazz, including a performance by Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road. Evan is a world-renowned clarinetist from New Orleans—who was part of the high school’s first graduating class in 1987.

Also appearing on the main stage is Frisson, a new eight-piece jazz band featuring recent graduates from Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio. The band released its first album this year.

“We’re proud of our find of new talent,” Newman said. “They are so talented; I would describe them as more of a contemporary jazz band.”

The French Quarter stage will present R&B, blues and rock ’n’ roll; expect more of a party scene, where people are up and dancing.

The third venue is Stephens Hall, which Newman described as “an intimate recital hall which will offer more ballads and avant-garde.” He talked about one of the Stephens Hall performers, a resident chamber group called the Definiens.

“I mention them not only to highlight the talent of our faculty, but they represent more of the diversity of music styles,” Newman said. “They are a chamber group doing jazz standards, but as a classical chamber group.”

On Saturday, a fourth venue will join the festival: The state-of-the-art Lowman Concert Hall, just completed in the spring. VIP package-holders can enjoy Seahawk MOJO (Modern Jazz Orchestra). This is the group headed by Marshall Hawkins, founder of the Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Jazz Program. The 30-piece orchestra will be playing jazz standards.

“These different venues are for those who feel that they are not jazz aficionados, per se,” Newman said. “They offer different styles of jazz.”

The party starts Friday, Aug. 11, with the special Patrons Dinner and Dance in the French Quarter on the main campus. Throughout the fest, artisans will sell handcrafted items in the festival market.

Idyllwild Arts’ Jazz in the Pines takes place Friday, Aug. 11, through Sunday, Aug. 13, at 52500 Temecula Road, in Idyllwild, a 55-mile drive from the Coachella Valley. Tickets are $85 for Saturday or Sunday admission; $150 for a two-day pass; or $350 for the Patrons VIP Package, which includes the Friday and Saturday evening events. For tickets or more information, call 951-468-7210, or visit www.jazzinthepines.com.

E=MC2.

Can one famous formula-turned-phrase make a man? What does that recognizable formula say about the character of the person who created it?

The one-woman play The Life and Times of A. Einstein, coming to the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre Friday through Sunday, July 21-23, explores these questions. Directed by Paul Gersen and starring playwright/actress Kres Mersky, the off-beat fictional comedy centers on Ellen Shoenhammer, the secretary to Prof. Einstein—although she is far more than just his secretary.

The character is loosely based on Einstein’s real secretary, Helen Dukas, whose duties included chauffeur, bodyguard and media liaison. She worked to keep his public image clear of scandal. She kept track of his dalliances and hid all of this damaging information protect his family. She was also the manager of all his business affairs—not a small feat, especially when dealing with a busy “genius.” After her death in the 1980s, much of her correspondence was uncovered—and that’s when so much was discovered about Einstein’s illicit affairs.

Mersky told me that The Life and Times of A. Einstein is a slice-of-life play, taking place on the great physicist’s birthday. He is supposed to be holding a press conference—but he is somehow unavoidably detained, so Ellen has to stand in for him.

“Einstein was a celebrity then,” Mersky said. “People hid in the bushes to get photos of him—like modern-day paparazzi.”

The play covers Ellen’s long association with the Einstein family, including how she came to meet the great man. Most importantly, she talks about his extraordinary research that changed our perception of the universe. Ellen also perfected the art of answering and evading questions—often better than the talking heads on today’s TV news.

“I always wanted to do a play about Einstein because of what he stood for,” Mersky said. “He was a complicated, great man who whose ethos and belief in the imagination helped shape science.”

How did the play finally come about? “It’s actually a play I have been working on for 15 to 20 years. I loosely based Ellen on the real secretary,” Mersky said.

I asked Mersky why Einstein remains such a popular figure today. “He is the world’s most famous refugee,” she said. “He is also known for all his humanitarian work. In 1933, he helped create the International Rescue Committee that, even to this day, is active. He will always be relevant.”

Mersky said she enjoyed creating a character who is strong yet funny. That description could apply to Mersky as well; she’s a Los Angeles-based actress who has enjoyed visiting the valley over the years. Her acting credits include Revenge of the Nerds and the Charlie’s Angels TV series. She even appeared on the legendary yet short-lived The Richard Pryor Show.

The Life and Times of A. Einstein is just one of CV Rep’s varied summer offerings, which include other one-person plays—including The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Linda Purl and based on Joan Didion’s riveting memoir; that takes place Aug. 11-13.

CV Rep is also hosting various musical performances. One Tuesday per month, “Jazz at the Rep” will spotlight various talented musicians. If jazz is not your thing, CV Rep’s summer offerings also include a Cabaret Series and a Classical Music Series.

The Life and Times of A. Einstein takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, July 21 and 22; and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 23, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $30. For tickets, more information and a complete schedule of summer offerings, call 760-296-2966, or visit cvrep.org.

The month of June brings the Palm Springs International ShortFest—the largest short-film festival on the continent.

This leads to a common question: “What makes a film a short?” The answer: No, it has nothing to do with the height of the director. Instead, a “short film” is any motion picture not long enough to be considered a “feature film.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits.” Sometimes, the synopsis may seem longer than the actual movie.

Lili Rodriguez is the festival director of the Palm Springs International ShortFest. Festival organizers receive more than 4,200 submissions for about 325 slots, organized into 90-minute themed screenings—and the nature of the films submitted often reflects the social and political issues of our time.

“This year, we’ve seen a lot of films about race relations in the United States, as well as about migration,” said Rodriguez.

So, how does a film make it into the festival?

“Films go through a selection process that includes a screening committee of around 20 people and four programmers,” Rodriguez explained via email. “Programmers select the final films that will play, and our goal is to have a balanced program that includes talent from all over the world and films with different perspectives and across many genres.”

Short films, like feature films, come in a variety of genres, including documentaries, fiction films and animated films. Many directors have honed their skills using the short format; Wes Anderson, Sam Raimi and Neill Blomkamp are just a few who did. The films are sometimes shown at the theater before a feature—usually the case with Pixar films, for example—or via avenues like AdultSwim.

I asked Rodriguez what she felt the festival’s goal is. “ShortFest is a platform meant to discover and nurture talent,” she said. “Our goal is to provide emerging and established filmmakers a space where they can learn and network—a space where short form is king.”

The festival also includes the ShortFest Film Market. It’s is the only short film market in the U.S., and includes more than 3,500 titles. Unfortunately, the market is not open to the public, but just to industry insiders and professionals. This is one reason why many sales people, distributors, filmmakers and others come specifically to the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

Originally, shorts were included as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival—until organizers realized the shorts deserved a festival of their own.

“Shorts used to get programmed with feature-length films in the January festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but in 1995, it broke off to be its own thing,” she explained. This is a good thing: I volunteered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this year, and I can’t imagine where they could even try to fit in short films.

The Palm Springs International ShortFest will take place Tuesday, June 20, through Monday, June 26, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets for individual screenings are $13, and six-packs of tickets are $69. For tickets or more information, call www.psfilmfest.org/2017-shortfest.

She stood in my office doorway, as palm trees from Palm Canyon Drive framed her long, dark-auburn hair. The cut of her emerald business suit clung to her curves in the all right places. The way she clutched her Kate Spade purse, I could tell something was really worrying her. Her deep hazel eyes betrayed her, showing the fear she had seen.

“What’s on your mind, doll face?” I asked as I tried to keep my eyes on her in a professional way. I have years of practice at looking at the wrong places.

With a pursing of her lips, she looked at me and said, “It’s already after 4 o’clock.” Her hands started to wring her purse tighter. “We’re going to be late for this year’s Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.”

Well, that’s how I would imagine it would go.

The 18th annual film festival takes place May 11-14, and once again, it is hosted by writer/historian Alan K. Rode at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs.

“I handpick each film, hoping it’s something people will want to see,” Rode told me.

I asked him where he finds so many of these films—many of which even avid fans like me don’t know. “Warner Bros studios opened their vaults to me this year. We are presenting an extremely diverse lineup of films.”

The film festival, per usual, will feature a wide range of guests, including one on opening night—Monika Henried, the daughter of film star Paul Henried, who produced and starred in the opening-night feature: a restored print of Hollow Triumph (1948), directed by Steve Sekely and co-starring Joan Bennett. From the novel by Murray Forbes, this is a story of a casino heist gone bad, a change of identity and the troubles to which a new life can lead.

One of the jewels of the festival is Meet Danny Wilson (1952). This rarely viewed Frank Sinatra and Shelley Winters collaboration is a musical drama directed by Joseph Pevney. This is the transition film that took Sinatra from his bobby-soxer popularity to From Here to Eternity fame. Raymond Burr is also in the film as the gangster who threatens the small-time singer as he rises to the top of his profession.

For first time, the festival will be showing Split Second (1953), marking the directorial debut of Dick Powell (radio’s Richard Diamond). The film follows a group of escaped convicts and hostages hiding in a ghost town—a group that is in real danger.

Other special guests slated to participate include Richard Duryea, son of Dan Duryea, the star of Black Angel (1946). The film also stars June Vincent and Peter Lorre. Andy Robinson, a star of “neo-noir” movie Charley Varrick (1973), will be present for that film’s screening, while Sara Karloff, daughter of Boris Karloff, will attend the screening of The Body Snatcher (1945)—which, in Rode’s opinion, marks Boris’ “finest screen performance.”

The festival’s focus is not only on delighting fans of film noir; it’s meant to open new eyes, too. Rode said festival organizers have been using social media such as Facebook in an effort to entice a younger generation of fans.

“Film is not a museum piece—not a genre, style, look or feel,” Rode said. “… Now we are offering everyone the opportunity to watch in original setting and mode.”

One of the reasons the festival takes place at the Camelot is the theater still has a 35mm film projector. Festival tradition dictates that screenings are shown in that format.

“We are attempting to preserve the original movie-going experience,” Rode said.

The 18th Annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival takes place Thursday, May 11, through Sunday, May 14, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $13 per film, or $125 for an all-access pass. For tickets or information, visit ArthurLyonsFilmNoir.org.

How much history can one man touch?

Meet songwriter Jack Lawrence. Born to modest beginnings in 1912, at the age of 20, he graduated from the First Institute of Podiatry. However, it turns out this would-be doctor was also a budding songwriter—and in the same year, his first song, “Play, Fiddle, Play,” was published.

Songwriting won out.

Lawrence was openly gay at a time when this was a dangerous admission. His surviving partner, Richard Lawrence, said Jack frequented so many clubs in Harlem, so often, that he was known by a pet name that he refused to let me print.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Richard Lawrence, Jack’s longtime partner and—because they were together at a time before marriage equality—adopted son. (This made Richard his legal heir.) I also talked with Burt Peachy, with 100 Hundred Miles From Hollywood Productions. They’re the team behind They All Sang My Songs—A Musical Tribute to the Composer/Lyricist Jack Lawrence, coming to downtown Palm Springs Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15.

Richard moved to Rancho Mirage after Jack’s death in 2009. He told me how they meet at a Fourth of July party in Hollywood back in the 1970s.

“I didn’t want to go. A friend of mine dragged me there,” Richard said. “On the way out, I saw this guy. I went to the hostess and asked, ‘What was this man’s name?’”

Turns out Jack had asked her the same question about Richard.

“One Saturday, he called me and asked what I was doing for lunch. I didn’t have anything to do, but I wasn’t going to commit, so I said, ‘I will call you back,’” Richard remembered. “I thought about it and said, ‘What the hell?’ and I called him back.”

They were together for 34 years, right up until Jack’s death.

Richard and Peachy based They All Sang My Songs on Jack’s book, which has the same title. The show is a musical revue with a storyline, they told me, with a feel like “you’re sitting in a supper club like Chi-Chi’s.”

Peachy said that after he wrapped up work on his short film Faces of 8, about opposition to California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8, made in 2012, he was hoping to take a break. “And this guy comes into my life,” he said, pointing at Richard. “Jack was one of the cornerstones of America’s songbook.”

That’s no hyperbole. During World War II, Jack served as a lieutenant in the Maritime Service and wrote the official song of the Maritime Service and Merchant Marine, “Heave Ho! My Lads! Heave Ho!” The successes kept coming. Dinah Shore sang his song “Yes, My Darling Daughter” on Eddie Cantor’s radio program, and later put it on her first record.

He wrote the lyrics for “Tenderly,” which became Rosemary Clooney’s trademark song. “This song helped revive Rosemary’s career,” Richard said. “It was on the rocks, and this song bought her back to the top. She was really a nice lady.”

Jack Lawrence also helped introduce The Ink Spots to the world with the song “If I Didn’t Care.” Even Old Blue Eyes sang a song of his, “All or Nothing at All,” which became one of Frank Sinatra’s first solo hits.

Oh, and then there’s his song “Linda,” which he wrote for his attorney’s infant daughter, Linda Eastman. Years later, she became Paul McCartney’s wife.

They All Sang My Songs will feature many of his hits, as well as three unreleased songs—including one sung by Jack himself, from a recording done in London. Performers include Darci Daniels, Keisha D, Charles Herrera, Phillip Moore and Bill Lohnes, who will play Jack Lawrence.

They All Sang My Songs—A Musical Tribute to the Composer/Lyricist Jack Lawrence will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2837455.

An estimated 450,000 people attend March’s BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament … so what do the other 434,000 people do when the tournament has narrowed down to action in just Stadium 1?

One possible answer: They head over to the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa for the second annual Spectrum Indian Wells Art Show, taking place Thursday, March 16, through Sunday, March 19.

Lisa Ashinoff is just one of the many artists participating in the juried contemporary arts show. The Virginia Beach, Va., resident studied art at Bard College and Florida International University. Why is she taking part in an art show so far away from home?

“My body of work is a good fit out there,” she said.

Actually, her work—paintings and drawings of cityscapes and dreamscapes—has been shown in Palm Springs before, which should come as no surprise, since she describes her work as “a mixture of modern and a midcentury modern.” She said growing up in a Norman Jaffe-designed house influenced her work, which has hints of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture as well. Ashinoff’s precise lines come from a system she has honed over the years.

She recently displayed her work at one of Spectrum Indian Wells’ sister shows in Miami, and she said she’s looking forward to having her work back in the desert.

“It allows me to show my work to get more exposure, because I have pretty large paintings,” she said. “The gallery hasn’t been able to show as many big pieces as I like, so it allows me to take (to the show) the big pieces I like.”

Ashinoff’s paintings can indeed be big—as large as 73 inches by 92 inches.

“They’re bold when they’re larger,” she said. “The color and the style of them are more effective on a larger scale. They just lend themselves to being a little larger than normal. I think it’s easier to paint a larger painting than it is to paint a smaller painting.”

The international list of galleries and artists confirmed as participants in Spectrum Indian Wells is quite impressive. For example, Renssen Art Gallery, from the Netherlands, will show works in the figurative tradition. Renssen is an avid admirer of Pablo Picasso, and adds a bit of abstraction—with vibrant and subdued colors—to his works.

Also confirmed is Canadian James Patterson, a sculptor whose work includes a piece that was commissioned by and recently installed at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning/Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Almost any type of artwork one can imagine—painting, photography, glassworks, sculptures and more—will be on display at the show. Spectrum Indian Wells is one of six annual art shows put on by the Redwood Media Group, including Artexpo New York, which is billed as the largest fine-art trade show.

Spectrum Indian Wells takes place at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa, 44400 Indian Wells Lane, in Indian Wells. The opening-night preview, from 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 16, is a benefit for the Desert AIDS Project; tickets are $50 in advance, or $60 at the door. One-day passes for the rest of the show are $20 in advance, or $30 at the event; three-day passes are $25 online, or $35 at the event, with discounts for students and seniors. Children 15 and younger are admitted for free. For tickets or more information, visit spectrum-indianwells.com. Below: "El Raval" by Lisa Ashinoff.