I have a propensity for severe landscapes. Minimalist architecture excites me. Between a rain forest and a desert, I prefer the desert. When faced with an overstuffed leather couch and a Danish teak bench from 1958, I gravitate toward the bench. Comfort be damned. This predilection for austerity, no doubt, inspires my love for Palm Springs (my first narrative feature is set there, in a prison-bare mid-century house on Calle Marcus). Accordingly, when my producer—and girlfriend—and I had the opportunity to return to the desert for the Palm Springs Film Festival (PSIFF) this January, we were too nostalgic to resist.
Beginning the first week of the calendar year, PSIFF opens the international festival season. You can attend the entirety of the festivities in the desert without missing a single party at Sundance—and I recommend that you do. PSIFF premieres great films, but what makes it stand out from most every other festival in the world is its lineup of world cinema offerings.
Because of its geographic proximity to Los Angeles, and its temporal proximity to the Academy Awards, PSIFF programs an incredible number of films submitted for Best Foreign Language consideration at the Oscars. Of the five nominated films at February’s grand ceremony—Amour, Kon-Tiki, No, A Royal Affair, and War Witch—all but Chile’s No screened in Palm Springs.
But more importantly for cinephiles like my girlfriend and me, PSIFF screens a humbling number of films submitted, but not nominated, for the Best Foreign Language category. Amongst the masterworks we saw at this year’s festival—some nominated, some ignored—were the Taviani brother’s Caesar Must Die (Italy), Miguel Gomes’ Tabu (Portugal), David “Tosh” Gitonga’s Nairobi Half Life (Kenya), and Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (Canada).
But PSIFF isn’t only for Angelenos escaping to the Coachella Valley to watch abstruse foreign cinema. Because the programmers work so diligently to bring the absolute cream of the international film crop to their festival, they attract the most important members of the film press and industry. If you’re an American filmmaker screening at PSIFF, MovieMaker, the LA Times, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter all set up shop during the two-week event. All you have to do is get them to your screening.