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Palm Springs announces festival winners

The 17th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival came to a successful close on Sunday, January 15, 2006. The Festival, which ran from January 5-16, 2006, screened 232 films from 71 countries, including 84 premieres and 49 of the 54 foreign entries for this year’s Academy Awards. Palm Springs’ increasingly popular Festival continues to expand its diverse programming of quality independent and foreign films, setting the stage for this year’s film festival circuit.

“We were overwhelmed by the growth of this year’s Festival as we continue to set box office and attendance records,” said Earl Greenburg, festival chairman. “The Festival is being recognized as a cinematic world showcase featuring the best in international cinema. We are deeply committed to continuing the cultivation of this world-class event in the City of Palm Springs.”

“It’s been a hugely successful year for the Festival, with record-breaking attendance, a rapturous audience and critical response to the film programming and the highest box office sales of any festival in the country,” said Darryl Macdonald, festival director. “More than 400 filmmaking and industry guests attended the event this year, enjoying wall-to-wall screenings, parties and special events, and sponsorships were up dramatically (some 60% higher than last year). In addition, it was the smoothest-running Festival we’ve ever had. I think the Festival hit its stride this year on all levels, which will only make us set even higher goals for ourselves next year.”

A special jury of international film critics reviewed the official Best Foreign Language submissions to the Academy Awards screened at this year’s Festival to award the FIPRESCI Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. This year the jury selected Buffalo Boy, the submission from Vietnam. Director Minh Nguyen-Vo's feature debut is a coming-of-age journey through French Indochina shortly before World War II. A teenaged boy transports his family's buffalos to greener pastures during the seasonal floods and discovers the joys and challenges of masculine ritual.

Ion Fiscuteanu received FIPRESCI Award Best Actor for his performance in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romania) directed by Cristi Puiu and Meltem Cumbul received FIPRESCI Award Best Actress for her performance in Lovelorn (Turkey) directed by Yavuz Turgul.

This year’s FIPRESCI jury members were president Kirill Razlogov (Russia), Henrik Uth Jensen (Denmark), Gideon Kouts (France), Charles-Stephane Roy (Canada) and Robert Koehler (U.S.).

The New Voices/New Visions category features films from twelve new international directors whose first or second films have been selected by the Festival’s programming team to represent the best work of previously unheralded talents emerging in the narrative filmmaking field with a particularly high standard of accomplishment and innovative technique. Jury members included actor Udo Kier, Los Angeles Times writer John Horn and Screen International writer Jeremy Kay.

The jury selected Love + Hate (U.K.), directed by Dominic Savage for this year’s New Voices/New Visions Award. The film tells a modern Romeo and Juliet love story set across racial divides in a northern British town. A special jury prize was given to Underground Game (Brazil), directed by Roberto Gervitz. The film is based on a story by Julio Cortazar about a young man who follows attractive women in the Sao Paulo metro hoping they'll take a preordained path of his choosing through the city, and consequently to his heart.

Other films screened for this award include Bal-can-can (Macedonia/Italy), Familia (Canada), Grain in Ear (China/South Korea), Look Both Ways (Australia), Mala Temporadas (Spain), The Master (Poland), Shark in the Head (Czech Republic), Sleeper (Austria/Germany), Time Off (Chile) and Whole New Thing (Canada).

Breno Silveria received the John Schlesinger Award for Outstanding First Feature (Narrative or Documentary) for Two Sons of Francisco. This debut feature revolves around the family of poor sharecropper Francisco, who dreamed of turning two of his nine children into a famous country music duo. This honor, selected by the Festival programming team, acknowledges the work of a first-time filmmaker whose narrative or documentary feature represents particular distinction and the promise of a major filmmaking career.

Commenting on the selection of the film, Carl Spence, director of programming said, “Breno Silveira is a celebrated cinematographer who has masterfully made a flawless, moving and visually stunning film with his feature-length film debut. Our hope is that with the presentation of this award Two Sons of Francisco will receive the critical acclaim and attention in North America that it deserves. The Festival looks forward to watching Silveria’s continuing career as an emerging master filmmaker.”

The Festival also announced its Audience Award Winners. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (U.K.) and Mother of Mine (Finland/Sweden) tied for Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, directed by Dan Ireland, the story revolves around the unlikely friendship between an elderly widow (Joan Plowright) and a dashing young writer (Rupert Friend), who meet quite by chance in contemporary London and come to share an enchanting and unexpectedly rich brief encounter. Mother of Mine, directed by Klaus Härö, is set during World War II, where ten-year-old Eero is one of eighty thousand children sent to Sweden for their protection. Alienated from his foster family and unfamiliar with the language, he feels abandoned and unsure of where he belongs. The film is the official submission for Best Foreign Language film from Finland.

The other runner-ups include Elsa & Fred (Spain/Argentina), The World’s Fastest Indian (New Zealand), Two Sons of Francisco (Brazil) and Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) (France/Belgium/Germany/United Kingdom/Romania).

Five Days in September (Canada) received the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film is an intimate and exciting look at the inner workings of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as it launches a new season with charismatic maestro Peter Oundjiian. Director Barbara Willis Sweete captures soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Emanuel Ax, and the lively backstage lives of the orchestra's musicians and administrators.

The other runner-ups include Pursuit of Equality (USA), 39 Pounds of Love (Israel), After Innocence (USA) and Street Fight (USA).

This year’s festival opened on Thursday, January 5, 2005 with New Line Cinema’s The New World, directed by Terrence Malick and starring Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale and Christopher Plummer. The New World is an epic adventure set amid the encounter of European and Native American cultures during the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Inspired by the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas, acclaimed filmmaker Malick transforms this classic story into a sweeping exploration of love, loss and discovery, both a celebration and an elegy of the America that was, and the America that was yet to come.

Other International Gala Screenings include the North American premieres of Two Sons of Francisco (Brazil), directed by Breno Silveira and Palais Royal! (France), directed by Valérie Lemercier, and the U.S. premiere Don’t Tell (Italy), directed by Cristina Comencini. This year’s traditional “Gay-la” screening will be Adam & Steve (USA), directed by Craig Chester. Director Pupi Avati received the Festival’s International Filmmaker Award.

The Festival closed with the U.S. premieres of Mrs. Harris on Saturday, January 14 and Wah-Wah, on Sunday, January 15. In addition, the Festival honored Academy Award winner Cloris Leachman with the Chairman’s Award for Career Achievement at the Festival’s Closing Weekend Gala following the screening of her film Mrs. Harris at the Palm Springs High School.

On Saturday, January 7, the Festival held its annual Awards Gala presented by Tiffany & Co. at the Palm Springs Convention Center hosted by Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart. The following honorees and presenters attended the event: David Cronenberg with the Sonny Bono Visionary Award presented by A History of Violence star Viggo Mortensen; Jake Gyllenhaal with the Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor presented by his Jarheard co-star Peter Sarsgaard; Terrence Howard with the Rising Star Award presented by his Crash co-star Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and director Paul Haggis; Felicity Huffman with the Breakthrough Performance Award presented by her Transamerica co-star Fionnula Flanagan; Michael London with the Producer of the Year Award presented by Sideways star Virginia Madsen; Shirley MacLaine with the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Academy Award winner Kathy Bates; Thomas Newman with the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing presented by Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton; Charlize Theron with the Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress presented by her Sweet November co-star Keanu Reeves.

This series of seminars, panel discussions and master classes focused on various elements of films and filmmaking, featuring filmmakers, film critics and film industry experts in intimate programs designed to explore various crafts and aspects of cinema. Variety’s Peter Bart moderated a conversation with Shirley MacLaine, Graham Flashner presented The Write Stuff- Everything You Wanted to Know About Writing a Screenplay, Hollywood deal broker Peter Dekom presented Fast Forward: The Future of Film Distribution and the creators of Shakespeare Behind Bars, who mounted a program which featured a screening of the film followed by a discussion with the film’s producer, writer and director focusing on the Shakespeare Behind Bars program and on the ways in which the craft of acting both reflects and illuminates reality.

Founded in 1990 by then Mayor Sonny Bono, the PSIFF is one of the largest film festivals in North America. The Festival has an attractive film sales and distribution record and is seen by American distributors as one of the best Academy Award campaign marketing tools. The Festival also features cultural events, filmmaker tributes, industry seminars and an annual black-tie gala award presentation.

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