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Established 1995 filmfestivals.com serves and documents relentless the festivals community, offering 92.000 articles of news, free blog profiles and functions to enable festival matchmaking with filmmakers.

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Palm Springs FF: a kinder, gentler Sundance

The Palm Springs International Film Festival, which just ended its run on Sunday, has the distinction of being the first festival event of the New Year. The Festival, now in its 19th year, prides itself on its international scope and its diverse programming strands. The Festival screens nearly all of the international films up for Academy Award consideration in the Best Foreign Language race, along with choice indie gems and some heavy hitter studio projects. In many ways, it is the kinder, gentler Sundance.....much less of an industry or media frenzy but a place where film professionals and buffs can take stock of the best of the past year's productions, as well as films that will matter in 2008.

The Festival began its almost two week run on January 3rd, screening over 200 films from 66 countries, including 65 premieres and 55 of the 63 foreign entries for this year’s Academy Awards. The Festival's physical proximity to the epicenter of Los Angeles, the presence of many Academy members and its famously enthusiastic audiences set the stage for the film festival circuit that will play out over the next twelve months. In its 19th edition, the Festival broke audience attendance records, hostings many international film creatives and hosting a star-studded Gala that included appearances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn and Halle Berry. The Festival's veteran director, Darryl MacDonald, is already making plans for next year's 20th anniversary edition, which should be a major event.

The Awards announced this past Sunday at a gala luncheon, perfectly reflect the Festival's expansive programming philosophy and its eclectic audience tastes. This year’s Festival attendees selected THEN SHE FOUND ME (USA) directed, co-written by and starring Helen Hunt as the Mercedes-Benz Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. The U.S. premiere opened the Festival and stars Hunt, Bette Midler, Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick. The film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, will be theatrically released this coming May by THINKFilm. AUTISM: THE MUSICAL (USA) by American independent documentarian Tricia Regan won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. The documentary follows the six-month rehearsal process of the Miracle Project, in which a group of autistic children writer and perform a full-length musical. The film is shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar.

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 ARMIN, the submission from Croatia, directed by Ognjen Svilicic. The film is an intimate, poignant drama about a small-town father and son trying to maintain their dignity in the big city and in the face of unexpected opportunities. The jury selected the film for its sensitive portrayal of a father-son relationship and the subtle intimations of unseen horrors, brilliantly evoked in a serio-comic manner. Song Gang-ho received FIPRESCI Award Best Actor for his performance in SECRET SUNSHINE (South Korea) directed by Lee Chang-dong and Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu shared the FIPRESCI Award Best Actress for their performances in the Romanian drama 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, directed by Cristian Mungiu.

The New Voices/New Visions category features films from ten 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. The Jury selected the German film HOUNDS (Germany), directed and co-written by Ann-Kristin Reyels. According to the jury statement, "the film cleverly and comically presents a small-town microcosm of global issues - the acceptance of disabilities without condescension, the respect for other species, and the importance of love and communication within families (however unconventional their composition). " Israeli director Nadav Schirman received the John Schlesinger Award for Outstanding First Feature (Narrative or Documentary) for the film THE CHAMPAGNE SKY (Israel). 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. The film follows a 12 year-old boy who journeys into the shadowy corners of his father’s real and covert identities, when he learns that he is a Mossad spy.

Belgian director Nic Balthazar received the Heineken Red Star Award for BEN-X, which shared the Grand Prix des Ameriques prize at this year's Montreal World Film Festival. The Award was created to provide increased exposure and visibility for the movies screened at these film festivals, while recognizing and rewarding innovative and original works of film. The winner receives a full-page profile in Variety magazine, featured on a segment on the Independent Film Channel, and is invited to participate in an industry networking event in Los Angeles this December - all in an effort to provide much-needed recognition and exposure for talented filmmakers to assist in getting their works to screen. The 20th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival is scheduled from January 8-19, 2009. For more information on this past year's Festival or next year's special event, log on to the Festival's website: http://www.psfilmfest.org.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Blog Editor on fest21.com

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