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Horror films tend to repeat the same themes and character types (see: vampires, werewolves, disfigured slashers in masks, etc.). However, the film Spring—which received a late-Saturday night, Jan. 3, showing at the Palm Canyon Theatre as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival—shows that horror films can be created that feel new and different.

As the film opens, a woman on her deathbed is being cared for by her son, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci). She begins to tell Evan a joke—but dies before she can complete it. Next, we see Evan pounding drinks after the funeral at the bar where he works. Evan gets in a fight with another customer; the following morning, after discovering the man filed charges, he’s shown in an airport shuttle van talking on his cell phone to an airline. He decides to flee to Italy.

After Evan arrives, he meets up with two backpackers in a hostel; they decide to invite him on a road trip to a coastal tourist town. After spending time in the mysterious coastal city, he encounters a beautiful Italian woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker). Evan decides to stay behind and finds a room in exchange for working on a man’s farm. Before long, Evan and Louise are in the midst of a passionate love affair.

Of course, this is a horror film, so things won’t quite be happily ever after. Evan discovers something strange about Louise; we see scenes in which Louise transforms into various monsters, feeding on animals and an even American tourist who rudely propositions her in an alley. Evan tries to understand what Louise is going through; when she reveals herself and begins to tell him the truth, their love only seems to strengthen.

Yes, Spring includes a love story, but it’s not overly sappy—and it’s certainly not a “normal” tale of romance. The film does an excellent job with entertaining and meaningful dialogue that doesn’t detract from the main sci-fi/horror storyline. Both Pucci and Hilker turn in brilliant performances, and the two have great on-screen chemistry.

In the program for the film festival, Spring is described as “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft.” That sounds about right. In any case, Spring offers a breath of fresh air to sci-fi/horror fans, reviving a genre that far too often relies on remakes, gimmicks and repetitive writing.

Watch www.facebook.com/springmovie for updates on release information.

Published in Reviews

As the Hollywood A-listers began arriving at Palm Springs Convention Center for the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival's Awards Gala on Saturday, Jan. 3, hopes ran high among the fans gathered along the sidewalks across from the red-carpeted entryway.

Whether the fans were locals or visitors to the Coachella Valley, they all had favorites they were hoping to see.

Palm Springs resident Diana Doyle has joined the crowd for three years running. “I’m one of those people now,” she said. “I’m hooked!”

Has she had luck meeting celebrities in the past?

“Last year, I had a great picture taken with Bradley Cooper, and it went into the Los Angeles Times, and now it’s my screensaver,” she laughed. This year, her good luck continued as she got a chance to grab “selfies” with Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

For Connie Hale of Palm Desert, this was her eighth year of braving the crowd.

“We got her about 12 noon today,” she said. “I’ve met lots of celebrities over the years, and this is the spot to do it. I’ve met Brad Pitt and Robert Downey Jr. already, but this year, I’d like to meet any of the stars coming.”

At one point, Hale found herself face-to-face with Michael Keaton—but the moment passed without her getting the autograph she wanted.

KESQ/CBS Local 2 meteorologist Rob Bradley and fiancée Kristina Guckenberger were among the fortunate fans who obtained access to the grandstand seating area next to the red-carpet entrance.

“I’ve had to work in the studio the last two years doing weather updates during down time in our Awards Gala red-carpet live special coverage, so this is my first time being here at the event,” Bradley said.

Did they have any favorites they wanted to see up close this evening? “My mom said I should meet Robert Downey Jr. and Brad Pitt. And for my dad, Reese Witherspoon,” Guckenberger said. Unfortunately, neither Downey nor Pitt appeared out front to greet fans.

Still, the crowd’s mood remained festive as the almost-full moon rose and the temperature dropped, before the fans dispersed as the awards dinner got under way inside.

Scroll down to see some pictures from the red carpet.

Published in Snapshot

The term “Leviathan” is used in the Old Testament to refer to a large sea creature; the word has been used to refer to Satan as well. Leviathan is now also the name of an acclaimed film out of Russia that’s a modern retelling of the Book of Job. It’s no surprise that a packed crowed showed up on Saturday, Jan. 3, to see it at the Camelot Theatres as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Leviathan begins on a peninsula near the Barents Sea. Nikolay (Aleksey Serebryakov) is driving to a train station to meet his friend, Dmitry (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). Dmitry is Nikolay’s old Army buddy, and he’s come from Moscow to act as Nikolay’s attorney. Nikolay’s wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and his teenage son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), have a troubled relationship, and there’s also tension with Nikolay, given their situation: Nikolay’s home is in danger of being taken by the town’s corrupt mayor, so a communication center can be built.

Dmitry reveals that he has information on the mayor that he believes will help save the home. However, Nikolay loses his case, and the mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), shows up that evening drunk, angry with Nikolay for causing delays; he humiliates Nikolay in front of his family as Dmitry tries to intervene and send the mayor away. Nikolay begins to fall apart as Vadim uses his political clout to destroy him; Nikolay finds himself losing everything, questioning God, and unaware of what horrible fate lies ahead.

Religion is present throughout Leviathan. A Russian Orthodox priest has ties with both Vadim and Nikolay. During a scene in which Roma goes off to be by himself along the shore, a skeleton of what appears to be a sea monster appears right in front of him. Later on, we see a living version of it in the water.

Leviathan has made the rounds at other film festivals and is a favorite to earn an Oscar nomination in the Foreign Film category, but the film isn’t without flaws. The pace is slow, and major plot events are often merely discussed rather than depicted. However, the film succeeds because of the mesmerizing characters, who are each engaged in their own personal struggles with morality.

The film covers a lot of hot topics in modern-day Russia, including political corruption and the resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church. One humorous scene references the Soviet Union, when one of Nikolay’s friends breaks out several framed pictures of leaders, including Stalin and Gorbachev, for target practice. He adds: “I have Yeltsin, too.”

It’s a film worth seeing. It’ll return to the valley on Friday, Feb. 13, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or.

Published in Reviews

The film Selma is one of the most acclaimed movies heading into awards season. It’s nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Drama, even though it doesn’t open in wide release until Jan. 9.

A week before that opening date, the film was the star attraction as the official opening night screening of the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, at Palm Springs High School, on Friday, Jan. 2.

On the unusually crowded red carpet, director Ava DuVernay and two of the film’s actors, David Oyelowo and Common, graciously posed for photographers and spoke with news crews and reporters about the controversy stirred by the powerful film.

“We couldn’t have prepared for this. I’m just thankful that we made a truthful enough film that it is meeting this moment in a real and potent way,” said Oyelowo, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the film, referring to current tension happening after the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Mo., and many other areas across the nation.

“Seven years ago when I first read this script, I felt God tell me that I was going to play this role,” Oyelowo continued. “There were very frustrating moments along the road where the film just wouldn’t get made, so to look at this divine timing of it coming out now, for me, I don’t think it’s an accident at all. I just feel very honored and humbled to be at the center of it.”

Scroll down to see some photos from the red carpet.

Published in Snapshot

Film

The Palm Springs International Film Festival

One of the largest film festivals in North America welcomes 135,000 attendees for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The festival is also known for its annual Black Tie Awards Gala, honoring the best achievements of the filmic year by a celebrated list of talents who, in recent years, have included Ben Affleck, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet. This 25th anniversary edition features an exciting lineup of the best of international cinema. Various times and prices from Friday, Jan. 2, through Monday, Jan. 12. 760-322-2930; www.psfilmfest.org.

Music and More

Betty Buckley—The Vixens Of Broadway

Betty Buckley has been called “the voice of Broadway,” and is one of theater’s most respected leading ladies. She is an actress/singer whose career spans theater, film, television and concert halls around the world, and she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2012. 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17. $60 to $75. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org.

Cabaret 88: Kevin Earley

Kevin Earley recently finished performing in Secondhand Lions in Seattle and Daddy Long Legs in Florida. A Drama Desk Award nominee for the title role in Death Takes a Holiday, his Broadway credits include Les Miserables, Thoroughly Modern Millie and A Tale of Two Cities. 6 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 13 and 14. $88. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org.

Copa Events

Last Comic Standing star Iliza Shlesinger takes the stage at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 9 and 10. $30 to $40. Former Mouseketeer Lindsey Alley brings her blend of show tunes and comedy to the Copa at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 16 and 17. $25 to $35. American Idol and The Voice diva Frenchie Davis performs at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 18. $25 to $35. Former X-Factor finalist Jason Brock performs at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 23 and 24. $25 to $35. All shows are 21 and older, with a two-drink minimum. Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-3554; www.coparoomtickets.com.

The USO Variety Show

The USO has been entertaining troops worldwide in times of peace and war for more 70 years. Now, the Bob Hope USO needs you to laugh, enjoy and have some fun remembering the good ol’ times. Join us for a live nostalgic tribute to Bob Hope and his band of Hollywood celebs; enjoy free tours of the museum pre- or post-show time. 2 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 22. $55 to $75. Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs. 760-778-6262; palmspringsvacationtravel.com.

Special Events

Dance for Life Palm Springs

A showcase of spectacular performances by renowned dance companies, all joining forces to help those in need. Now in its fourth year in Palm Springs, this event celebrates the art of dance to benefit AIDS Assistance Program. 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16. $95 performance; $200 with VIP reception. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-8481; aidsassistance.org.

Gourmet Food Truck Event

Try food trucks for lunch featuring burgers, barbecue, tacos, California cuisine, sushi and dessert. Outdoor seating is available, or bring a blanket. Dabble in the local farmers’ market; listen to music provided by The Coachella Valley Art Scene; enjoy a beer garden with some of the best craft beers from La Quinta Brewing Company and Coachella Valley Brewing Company. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Free. Cathedral City Civic Center Plaza, 68700 Avenue Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City. Thecoachellavalleyartscene.com.

Hearts for Art Gala

Don’t miss the red carpet, celebrity sightings, cabaret show, exciting live and silent auctions, Hollywood glitz and glamour galore, and fun, fun, fun. Your attendance supports the nonprofit Old Town Artisan Studio’s mission to bring clay and glass art experiences to the underserved. 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17. $150. La Quinta Resort and Club, 49499 Eisenhower Drive, La Quinta. 760-777-1444; www.oldtownartisanstudio.org.

Looking for Lost Ophir

This lecture by author/historian Nick Clapp is part of the Old School House Lecture Series, which started in 1999 and is run in partnership with the Twentynine Palms Historical Society. 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 9. $5 at the door. Old Schoolhouse Museum, 6760 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms. 760-367-5535.

Visual Arts

Art Under the Umbrellas

The event presents a diverse collection of 80 talented artists exhibiting their original creations along Old Town La Quinta’s picturesque Main Street. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10 and 17. Free. Old Town La Quinta, Main Street, La Quinta. 760-564-1244; lqaf.com.

Desert Art Festival

This event features numerous artists presenting their original work in all mediums of two- and three-dimensional fine art, including paintings in acrylic, oils and watercolors, photography, etchings, sculpture in clay, glass, metal, stone and wood. Each artist will be present to meet with the public and discuss their work. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 17 and 18. Free. Frances Stevens Park, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 818-813-4478; westcoastartists.com.

A Grand Adventure: American Art in the West

The epic 19th-century landscape paintings of Yosemite and Yellowstone by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran introduced the American public to the grandeur of the West. By the turn of the century, a new genre of Western art had developed. A Grand Adventurebrings together 40 significant classic and traditional artworks from private collections. The artworks span nearly 100 years, dating from the latter half of the 19th century through the early decades of the 20th century. The exhibit closes Sunday, Jan. 4. Included with regular admission prices. Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111, Palm Desert. 760-346-5600; www.psmuseum.org/palm-desert.

Southwest Arts Festival

This festival sponsored by the Indio Chamber of Commerce, the City of Indio and the Indio Visitors Bureau features traditional, contemporary and abstract fine works of art by more than 250 acclaimed artists, and is celebrating its 29th year. The festival includes clay, drawing, glass, jewelry, metal works, painting, photography, sculpture and textile. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 25. $9 general; $8 seniors; $12 three-day pass; free children 14 and younger. Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51, Indio. 760-347-0676; www.discoverindio.com/Southwest-Arts-Festival.

Town Square Art Affaire

The Town Square Art Affaire will feature numerous artists presenting their original work in all mediums of two- and three-dimensional fine art. Each artist will be present, and all work is available for purchase. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 10 and 11. Free. Cathedral City Town Square, 8700 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City. 818-813-4478; westcoastartists.com.

Submit your free arts listings at calendar.artsoasis.org. The listings presented above were all posted on the ArtsOasis calendar, and formatted/edited by Coachella Valley Independent staff. The Independent recommends calling to confirm all events information presented here.

Published in Local Fun

It’s rare experience for an audience to spontaneously break into full-throated laughter or even applause in the middle of a movie—but such visceral reactions were frequent during the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Student Screening Day, on Monday, Jan. 13.

More than 1,000 students from nine valley high schools were selected by teachers and administrators to fill the auditorium at the Palm Springs High School on the final day of this year’s film festival for screenings of Wadjda and The Crash Reel. They also participated in Q&A sessions after each showing.

“It’s been a sensational day,” said PSIFF director Darryl Macdonald. “I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of our audience today, this film (Wadjda) was the first subtitled film they’ve ever seen. … It teaches them how people of their generation live on a day-to-day basis in Saudi Arabia—and their response was just overwhelmingly wonderful.”

For the film’s writer and director, Haifaa al-Mansour, the student audience’s vociferous support of her film helped make the struggles she endured while making the film in her native Saudi Arabia worthwhile.

“My country is segregated,” said al-Mansour. “It doesn’t allow a woman to be on the streets. So if the Saudis don’t want women in the streets, then I’ll make the film from a van with a monitor and a walkie-talkie. But I don’t think they like me to make the film as well—so here we go.”

Did she model the film’s rebellious and hyper-entrepreneurial title character after herself?

“I’m shy. I’m not a hustler like Wadjda,” said al-Mansour. “My niece is amazing, and I based the character on her. She’s always scheming some way to make money. She’ll never take no for an answer. I grew up with girls like that who have great potential, but they give up and become conservative, because this is the way society wants them.”

Bank of America is the sponsor for the educational day.

“We’ve been doing this day for six years,” said Al Arguello, the Inland Empire’s market president. “It’s the highlight of our annual sponsorship, because we’re able to expose over 1,000 students in the Coachella Valley to the art of film-making.”

Macdonald said it was a special day for everyone involved.

“This is exactly what our student screening day is all about: opening (students’) eyes to the world and giving them an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with these filmmakers, and ask penetrating questions that are inspired by the movies.”

Published in Previews and Features

The late Gore Vidal was a lot of things—playwright, screenwriter, novelist, man of letters, historian and political commentator. Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia gives a look at all those facets of the late author’s life in detail.

All of three of the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s screenings of The United States of Amnesia sold out. During the Thursday, Jan. 9, screening at the Palm Canyon Theatre, there was not an empty seat in the house. After nine months on the film-festival circuit now, The United States of Amnesia deserves a wider release.

Another publication’s review of the film stated that there were many surprises in the film; however, fans who have read both of Vidal’s autobiographies—–Palimpsest and Point to Point Navigation—won’t find many surprises. His feuds with William F. Buckley, his split with John F. Kennedy over foreign policy, and his arguments with Truman Capote and Norman Mailer are all well-documented.

The 89-minute film, showing Vidal throughout his life, is a detailed production.

“The documentary was five or six years in the making,” Wrathall said during a recent phone interview. “I always found him to be a very inspiring writer. I was very interested him as an intellectual—someone who was outspoken against the general media’s representation of things.”

The documentary starts shortly after the 2003 death of Vidal’s longtime companion, Howard Austen. Vidal is seen visiting the resting place of Howard in a cemetery in Washington D.C.; it’s also where he would be buried next to Austen after his death in 2012, at the age of 86.

The story of his childhood follows. Vidal was born into a life of privilege. His father, Eugene Vidal, was in the aeronautics industry, and tried create a line of planes that were easy to fly. His mother, Nina Gore, was an alcoholic. Vidal was later raised by his grandparents, Nina Belle and Thomas Gore, a Democratic U.S. senator from Oklahoma who was also blind.

“He had a difficult time as a child,” Wrathall said. “His parents divorced when he was very young; his mother was drinking a lot; his father was absent a lot because he was working in the airline industry, so for much of his childhood, he was brought up by his grandparents. As a child, his main influence was his grandparents. His grandfather was a quite famous senator; as a blind man, (his grandfather) put himself through law school. He opposed America’s entry into both world wars, and was very outspoken.”

While Vidal was born into the American establishment, he eventually spoke out against it. In the film, he is seen telling a group of people standing in an unemployment line during his failed U.S. Senate run in California in 1982: “It’s socialism for the rich, and free enterprise for the poor.”

Vidal was known for his staunch left-wing political views, anti-war activism and intense criticism of President George W. Bush. However, Vidal said he believed he was a conservative in the old sense of the word.

“I wouldn’t call him a conservative,” Wrathall said. “I’d say if anything, maybe you could say republican with a small ‘R,’ meaning a republican in the old sense of the word. He believed in the republic in America; he believed America should be focused more on taking care of its own and not expanding and empire-building. He didn’t believe in getting involved in Central America, and he didn’t believe in getting involved in the Middle East. I think he was anti-imperialism, and he was one of the first to coin the phrase ‘American empire.’”

Wrathall talked to Christopher Hitchens about Vidal shortly before Hitchens’ death in 2011. Hitchens is also seen in the film attending a release party for Point to Point Navigation in 2006.

“Gore was sort of a mentor to Hitchens,” Wrathall said. “They were once friends, and then, of course, they had a falling out. Right before they had a falling out, Hitchens made sort of an abrupt right turn into support for the Iraq War, which Gore saw as a real abomination and a traitor to his roots. He cut him off and didn’t want to speak to him again after that point. When I filmed that footage of the release of Point to Point, Hitchens was there in the room at the reception, and Gore sort of brushed him off.”

After the death of Austen in 2003, Vidal had to leave the mountaintop villa they shared in Ravello, Italy, because he was becoming more immobile. He returned to America and settled in Los Angeles, and some have said that the last years of his life were his best politically, as he took on the Bush administration and educated the public about what he saw as the end of our habeas corpus rights via the Patriot Act.

Vidal is shown in his old age being asked about what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind. He answers very slowly: “I could care less.” That’s fitting for a man who said a long time ago, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

Wrathall, on the other hand, does care how Vidal is remembered.

“Gore was an incredible intellectual and a very multifaceted person, given he wrote novels, screenplays essays and plays,” Wrathall said. “He was a provocateur, pointing out the problems of the world and being brave enough to speak the truth. I don’t think that many people are willing to do that, and he did it all his life. Many of the things he’s shown in the film saying in the ’50s, ‘60s and ‘70s are still very current. He was very much ahead of his time.”

For more information, visit www.gorevidaldocumentary.com.

Published in Previews and Features

It was Day 5 of the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival, and I wanted to talk to the leader of the festival’s critically important volunteer team.

Of course, this was not the best time for Rochelle Koch to take a few moments to chat with a pesky reporter. To put it mildly, she was kind of busy.

However, Koch, who is in her third year as the PSIFF volunteer coordinator, seemed happy to take some time to chat about her “wonderful team.”

“It’s my volunteer family, is how I refer to it,” said Koch (pronounced “Cook”), who comes across as a focused bundle of energy. “‘Our Volunteers Are The BEST!’ is what I put on my business card and on my emails—and it’s the truth.”

Festival director Darryl Macdonald was also happy to take a few moments out of his busiest week of the year to share his perspective.

“The volunteers’ contribution to the festival’s success is invaluable in every way,” he said. “This is one of the top three festivals in the U.S. in terms of attendance, with well over 130,000 attendees last year. So the manpower needed to support 15 screens showing films from early morning until well into the evening each day, the number of hands needed to deal with hundreds of filmmaking and press guests in town, coming and going throughout the festival … there are just so many fronts where extra hands and brains are needed that it is utterly true that without our volunteers, there is no way we could run a festival of this size or pursue the kinds of ambitions we have.”

Remember how we mentioned that Koch is kind of busy? Well, we were putting it mildly.

“I have over 3,500 shifts to cover at the five screening venues and various events over the 11 days of the festival,” she said Koch. “The main responsibility for myself and volunteer assistant coordinator David Gray is to manage and schedule volunteers, and making sure all of our shifts are covered when volunteers have to cancel their commitment, because life does happen.

“So out of our standing database of more than 2,000 registered volunteers, we have between 700 and 800 working at this festival—and we couldn’t do it without them. They’re wonderful people from all walks of life—a CEO to a dishwasher in a restaurant. They’re from different nationalities and different races. That’s what, I think, gives us our strength.”

The volunteers are organized into 19 active teams: Theater Operations, Transportation, Balloting, Special Events, Black-Tie Gala, Guest Services/Hospitality, Concierge, Credentials, Film Society, Film Review, Front Desk, Merchandise, Office, Opening/Closing Night, Street Team, Village Fest, Volunteer Department, Interpreter and—last but not least—the Lead Team, which supervises the Theatre Operations and Ballot volunteers.

“We rely on them to take care of everything from taking tickets at the door, dealing with customers at the merchandise outlets, (and helping) our guests in the hospitality suites, to travel support. Literally, we have volunteers who drive into Los Angeles to pick up filmmaker guests and drive them to Palm Springs,” Macdonald said. “There is not a single front of the festival that volunteers are not an integral part of.”

Few people realize that the Palm Springs International Film Festival volunteer effort is a year-round affair.

“We have a volunteer corps which helps out in the office year-round, and there’s a preview screening team made up of 16 volunteers that help us critique submitted films as they come in,” said Macdonald. “… We also do the Palm Springs ShortFest each June. It’s the largest short-film festival in North America, and last year, we got over 3,400 entries. So we’ve put together this crew of programming assistants from our volunteer corps. These are people who have long been immersed in film who help us with the grading process by actually watching the films and then recommending which films move forward in the process. It literally takes five or six months even for this group and our staff programming team to watch 3,400 films.

“I’m not entirely sure that some of us wouldn’t be wearing inch-thick glasses or be locked in a booby hatch somewhere, bouncing off of rubber walls, if it wasn’t for the help we get from our volunteers.”

Only a select few can claim to have been a part of the now finely tuned PSIFF volunteer effort from the beginning.

“We have three wonderful volunteers—Dee Thomas, and Sidel and Lionel Weinstein—who come out every season, and they’ve all been here since Sonny Bono started this festival 25 years ago,” said Koch. “And they are all such neat people.”

Of course, these three will be among the honored invitees to the annual post-festival “thank you party” for the volunteer staff, at which Macdonald and festival Chairman Harold Matzner will show their appreciation.

“When compared to all the various film festivals in the country, our volunteers have a wonderful reputation for being the friendliest and the most helpful, since they know film themselves, and they know what they’re doing,” said Koch. “All of our volunteers do a wonderful job, and they’re great ambassadors for Palm Springs.”

Those interested in becoming a PSIFF volunteer should visit the website at www.psfilmfest.org/society/work/volunteer.aspx. People who register will be contacted via phone by a volunteer representative.

Published in Previews and Features

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.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/3nights or www.naafilms.com/#desert.

Published in Reviews

Through a partnership of Palestinian director Sameh Zoabi and Search for Common Ground founder John Marks comes Under the Same Sun, set in the near future in Israel and Palestine.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival was the site of the film’s West Coast premiere on Saturday, Jan. 4, with both Marks and Zoabi on hand for a discussion of the movie. Before the film started, Marks addressed the audience.

“You might find this film to be a fantasy, but the idea is to understand this could happen with the right leadership,” said the founder of the nonprofit organization that seeks to end violent conflict.

A Palestinian businessman, Nizar (Ali Suliman), and an Israeli businessman, Shaul (Yossi Marshek), have a secret business meeting in France. Shaul owns a solar-power company and is pitching the idea of selling solar panels to Palestinians, due to the actual facts that Palestinians get the vast majority of their electricity from Israel, and that areas near Israeli settlements often don’t have electricity.

Shortly after the two men begin their business venture, Israeli and Palestinian press get wind of it—and both men face opposition from their families, friends and their fellow citizens.

The two men then take to social media in an attempt to change the situation. In a fictional series of events that follow, Israel and Palestine fall under the proposed two-state-solution—and there is eventually peace between the two countries, thanks in large part to the efforts of the two businessmen.

Yes, the film is a fairy tale, of sorts. It proposes the idea that good intentions and good business can change the world—even in an area with deep-rooted issues like the Middle East. However, this fairy tale does have some truth behind it: Social media has helped build the blueprints for change in other Middle Eastern countries, most notably Egypt. Perhaps such a thing could happen, but as they say: It’s only a movie.

Before the Q&A session, John Marks explained how the filming process shared similarities with the business relationship of the two lead characters in the film: It was a collaborative effort. Zoabi was not allowed into Israel, for example, so he led the scenes in Palestine, while another crew filmed on the Israeli side.

“We became experts in how to make a film in the Israeli and Palestinian territories,” Marks said.

Zoabi said he made an effort to show both perspectives in Under the Same Sun.

“Working with different crews was also part of the process for me, and I was always trying to push everyone to see the two sides of the story,” Zoabi said.

The Q&A session that followed the film was decidedly intense. The film received loud applause from the audience as the credits rolled—but not everyone was clapping. Some audience members sat with arms crossed, and even looked agitated; that agitation came through in some of the questions.

“I’m curious whether the propaganda changes to fact—so I’d like to know: What is propaganda, and what is real?” one woman angrily asked Marks and Zoabi regarding the assertion that some Palestinian areas near Israeli settlements don’t have electricity.

Marks, a Jewish-American, responded that the Jewish settlers in the West Bank often don’t allow nearby Palestinians to have electricity or running water in their villages. “It’s an occupation, and it’s arbitrary; they act in arbitrary fashion, and it’s usually due to security reasons. Occupation is never a good thing,” Marks said.

Another man heckled both Marks and Zoabi over their failure to explain why there is a wall between Israel and Palestine, and chided them for not offering details about the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel which began in 1987. The filmmakers responded that the film was made for those who already know the basic history and reality of the conflict.

One woman criticized the filmmakers by telling them that there would never be peace due to the fact that Palestine does not acknowledge Israel’s existence.

However, not all audience members expressed such hopelessness. One man asked the Palestinian and the Jewish American a question I had myself: Can the peace depicted in Under the Same Sun realistically happen?

“A lot of people say that something needs to be done,” Zoabi said. “Well, we have the politicians controlling everything, and that voice that something could be done and should be done—I try to visualize that it could be a possibility. I’ve seen it happening … where individuals take matters into their own hands in Palestine and Israel. I think it will end up being like this soon, hopefully. Who does that? How do they do that? The film gives us an idea of that possibility.”

Under the Same Sun is a visionary film that presents a real possibility for change and a brighter future. Zoabi is an up-and-coming director who proved that he can pack an emotional and social message into a 75-minute film. We’ll likely see more of him in the future.

For more information, visit lamafilms.com/movie/under-the-same-sun, or www.sfcg.org/programmes/jerusalem/index.html.

Published in Reviews

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