Anyone that has attended the Palm Springs International Film Festival has surely noticed the rather specific demographic - both in background and age - that makes up the audiences that night after night fill up the screenings. While audiences of color and from a wide age range live in this small town, which has managed to put together an important regional festival for nearly three decades, they don’t seem to have incorporated into the film festival experience. The assumption that the festival is only for those with a higher income, prominent educational backgrounds, or industry connections, might deter local audiences, to whom the festival should aim, from attending.
Conscious of such this phenomenon, the festival and their Latino team in particular, have doubled their efforts to create visibility for the festival in a Latino context in order to attract those patrons that erroneously could think their festival doesn’t welcome them or that it doesn’t offer any stories that could entice them. People like seasoned programmer Hebe Tabachnick, who ensures the best films to come out of Latin America that year screen in Palm Springs; Program Manager Liliana Rodriguez, who also programs the After Dark section of the festival and who is an outspoken supporter of Latin American cinema; or Film Society Assistant Patricia Garza-Elsperger, whose efforts in making the festival a friendly environment for local Latino audiences go above and beyond her official duties.
Events such as the Cine Latino Party, which brings together filmmakers, press, programmers, staff and the general public, or the Latino Filmmakers Dinner, where the artists discussed their works amongst each other and with selected press in attendance in a casual environment that hopes to create a stronger community of people rallying behind Latin American cinema, U.S. Latino projects, and even honorary-Latino films like Paddy Breathnach Cuba-set “Viva.”
Thanks to Tabachnick and her collaborator’s relentless dedication, an immense amount of Latin American films formed part of this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival program and an equally impressive number of filmmakers came to the city to present their work. The film selection included "Alias Maria" (Colombia),"The Second Mother" (Brazil),"From Afar" (Venezuela), "Jeremy" (Mexico), "The Club" (Chile), "Liz in September" (Venezuela), "Magallanes" (Peru), "The Memory of Water" (Chile), "Papa" (Cuba), "Neon Bull" (Brazil), "Paulina" (Argentina), "The Clan" (Argentina). Celso R. García director of the Guillermo Del Toro-produced “The Thin Yellow Line” (La delgada linea amarilla), Flavio Florencio director of Mexican trans documentary “Made in Bangkok,” Jayor Bustamante director of "Ixcanul," and Ciro Guerra director of the Academy Award-nominated "Embrace of the Serpent," were among he talented creators in attendance.
One particularly insightful presentation was the double feature program of Michel Franco’s English-language debut “Chronic” and Gabriel Ripstein’s feature debut “600 Miles,” in which both filmmakers interchanged roles as producer and directors respectively. Both hard-hitting and emotionally devastating films star British actor Tim Roth in two very distinct roles. In “Chronic” as a hospice caretaker struggling with his own turbulent past, and in “600 Miles” as an ATF agent that is kidnapped by a young Mexican boy working very dangerous people. Following the screenings Tabachnick moderated a Q&A with Ripstein and Roth about their mutual experience working on these titles.
As part of the festival’s commitment to engage its homegrown audiences in the festival’s mission and to expose them stories from around the world from, Tabachnik also hosted a screening of the Mexican family film “Jeremy” (El Jeremias) at a local high school. Through initiatives like this, PSIFF wishes to evolve into a more inclusive event that can cater to cinephiles, casual attendees, and those looking to be surprised – no matter how young they are. Community outreach via the power of cinema is what could truly transform the festival from its apparent elite quality to an accessible and much more multicultural space to enjoy and discuss the art form.
Latin American cinema is consistently present and awarded at countless festival due to the particular voices and topical issues it depicts, not only with an authentic approach, but always layered with universal appeal. It’s time that audiences represented in such films or those connected to them by their heritage become a stronger force not only at the mainstream box-office but also at festival where they can have an interaction with the storytellers behind the camera. On that note, Palm Springs International Film Festival is on the right path into becoming a festival that retains the quality of the films, but sets its eyes on diversifying the eyes set that come through the theater doors.
The 27th Palm Springs International Film Festival took place January 1-11, 2016.