(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reverend's Preview: The Stars Come Out in Palm Springs

During its first quarter century, the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) has grown from a fairly isolated event in the middle of the Southern California desert to one of the largest film festivals in North America. It has also become a must-appearance event for each year’s Academy Award hopefuls. The 2014, 25th anniversary fest will be held January 3rd-13th and boasts its most star-studded roster yet.

Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey and Julia Roberts, among others, will all be honored at the annual Awards Gala the evening of Saturday, January 4th at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Suitably enough, Streep will be presented the festival’s Icon Award for a body of work culminating in her current, scenery-chewing turn in August: Osage County, in which Roberts plays her estranged daughter.

“For almost 40 years, Meryl Streep has portrayed an astonishing array of characters in a career that has cut its own unique path from the theatre through film and television,” according to festival organizers. “In 2011, in a record that is unsurpassed, she earned her 17th Academy Award nomination for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (she also won).” Streep just completed production on Disney’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical Into the Woods, in which she plays the Witch role originated by Bernadette Peters.

Bullock and Hanks are being recognized for their star turns in, respectively, 2013’s Gravity and Captain Phillips, while McConaughey’s performance as an AIDS-afflicted activist in Dallas Buyers Club is being feted. Also, Steve McQueen will be honored as Director of the Year for his work on the Oscar front-runner 12 Years a Slave and the cast of writer-director David O. Russell’s American Hustle (which includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence) will share the Ensemble Performance Award.

PSIFF today attracts over 135,000 attendees with its mix of world and US premieres, celebrated international features and acclaimed documentaries. These include a number of films each year of GLBT interest and/or directed by GLBT filmmakers. The 2014 event will be no exception, with 16 GLBT productions set to be screened. While a few of them (Test, Reaching for the Moon, Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro, and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia) have previously appeared at other Southern California festivals, others are making their local premieres. Among these are:

  • Gerontophilia, in which longtime provocateur Bruce LaBruce trades in his traditional hardcore style for a more discreet, gentle look at a young man who falls in love with an 81-year old resident of the nursing home in which he works.
  • Tattoo, a Brazilian film set in 1978 about the forbidden romance between an 18-year old soldier in the country’s ruling military regime and an anarchist cabaret ringleader.
  • Cupcakes, the new movie by popular gay Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, Yossi), is a musical-comedy focusing on six friends of different sexual persuasions who write a song as a joke only to see it chosen for a national song competition.
  • Two Mothers, a moving docudrama from Germany about a lesbian couple striving to have a child only to face opposition from their country’s political system.
  • Five Dances, a riveting look at the budding romance between two young, attractive male dancers working on a choreographer’s special project. Directed by the talented Alan Brown, who made a splash with his Private Romeo a couple of years back.

  • Continental, Malcolm Ingram’s documentary exposé of New York City’s legendary Continental Baths, also known as the gay hotspot where Bette Midler got her start as a performer in the early 1970’s.
  • Hidden Hills, a romantic comedy set in 1964 involving a handsome real estate agent’s decision to buck societal norms and marry his longtime partner. The film’s supporting cast includes Jane Wiedlin of The Go Go’s and the very funny Wendy Shapero (Robot Chicken).
  • It’s All So Quiet, from the Netherlands, follows a middle-aged farmer’s quest to come out of the closet after a lifetime of loneliness. The Hollywood Reporter praised the film as “a poignant reflection on solitude, homosexual repression and aging.”

Each year, the PSIFF highlights film submissions from a particular country. Canada is the organizers’ choice for 2014, and the “Spotlight on Canadian Cinema” section will include Gerontophilia in addition to two other lesbian-themed productions. One is Denis Côté’s hard-hitting drama Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, about an ex-con trying to get her life back on track with help from her girlfriend during her time in prison and her gay parole officer. The other is Sarah Prefers to Run, a debut feature by director Chloé Robichaud, in which a young female runner making the leap to a university team stumbles in the world of adult relationships and responsibilities.

A number of other foreign films being considered for this year’s Academy Awards will be screened as part of the fest’s “Awards Buzz” section. They include Australia’s The Rocket, Denmark’s The Hunt, France’s Renoir, Iceland’s Of Horses and Men, Israel’s Bethlehem and Italy’s The Great Beauty. A special jury of international film critics will determine winners of the annual FIPRESCI Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor and Best Actress out of the 45 features screened.

Finally, Variety magazine will spotlight “10 Directors to Watch” during the festival, honoring “the most exciting new talents in the field” and their new work. This year’s selection includes up and comers Amma Asante, Anthony Chen, Ben Falcone, Maya Forbes and Dome Karukoski. Past honorees have been the now-renowned Ben Affleck (Argo), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy) and Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom).

For more information about the 2014 festival, visit their website or call 1-800-898-7256.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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