It felt amazing to be back in the theater for the first time in almost 2 years. With record temperatures blazing in the desert, an air-conditioned cinema made for a fantastic way to cool off over extremely thoughtful content with other movie goers at the International Palm Springs Shortfest 2021.
The Palm Springs International Film Society marked another exciting milestone as its annual Palm Springs ShortFest becomes the first film festival in the state to hold all of its screenings in-theatre in 2021.
It only took stepping into the Camelot Theatres and getting settled in my seat to remind me of the beauty of cinema. The shared communal theater experience offers a connection one cannot get at home. Films elicit powerful emotions and being there for this exciting film event brought me back to what seemed like a lost time or far-gone era. After each film, the audience clapped in celebration of the filmmakers’ efforts. The audience’s laughter felt therapeutic and even the stifled sniffles reminded me of our humanity and the importance of the big screen.
While I didn’t catch nearly all that was offered during this weeklong fest at Camelot Theatres (Palm Springs Cultural Center) from June 22-28, I watched numerous films in categories like “Far From Home” about refugees and the idea of home or people who have left what they have always known and find themselves forever changed. The “Stardust” category of films showcased shorts pondering all matters celestial and spiritual.
Some of the shorts that really moved me included “La Espera” about a caravan of people in no man’s land trying to cross the U.S. border and attempting the journey by hitching a ride by train. Hungry children. A mother making tortillas at night with 2 ingredients scared to even attempt to jump the train. Stories of others who came before them that were killed trying.
“A Broken House” directed and produced by Jimmy Goldblum is another powerful film about a Syrian architect stuck in the U.S. (New Haven, CT) on a single-entry visa panging for his culture and home – one in which 1000-year-old buildings are bombed to smithereens and a culture is being decimated through its architecture and people. A memory. His longing for his family to be together again increases during the holidays as he reminds us “A family sees each other.” His family is now spread all over the world and we watch as his mother refuses to leave her dangerous homeland. His homesickness leads him to construct lifelike renditions of the home he left behind. This film ended up winning two awards – one being the people’s choice or Audience Award and Best Documentary Short. The humble producer and director Jimmy Goldblum (who I later learned has worked on such projects as Chef’s Table and Unsolved Crimes) spoke about compassion and his hope for more empathy.
A shocking film called “Dying in your Mother’s Arms” recounted the grueling pain of a family having to bring a baby home to die at home after nothing else could be done in the hospital.
A longer film where several of us could be heard silently weeping is “From Devil’s Breath” about the fires in central Portugal in 2017 that devastated a town. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, the film is about a community’s resilience so reminiscent of the fires we endured in Malibu soon after their own tragedy. One of the most gut-wrenching scenes is a woman recounting coming to find her home intact with the table set for dinner but her husband and 6-year-old son had fled only to be burned in their car trying to escape. The son was found on the husband’s lap. 120 people are killed in this small town igniting a global revolution – a goal of a billion trees planted around the world to fight climate change.
We later learn this Portuguese town is surrounded by non-native eucalyptus that ignite and burn like Roman candles so the survivors work hard to start reintroducing native trees around the town, but not without anger from the people who make living on the non-native plants.
Designated by AMPAS, BAFTA, BIFA and Goya Awards as an award-qualifying festival, and accredited by the International Short Film Conference, the Palm Springs International ShortFest & Short Film Market is one of the most acclaimed short film showcases in the world.
The ShortFest Forum returned with virtual classes and panels featuring industry representatives, filmmakers and additional guests to maximize audience participation and connect with international filmmakers unable to attend. Accredited industry guests had virtual access to the ShortFest Film Market library which will include thousands of submissions.
Awards and cash prizes worth $25,000, including five Academy Award-qualifying awards, were announced on Sunday, June 27.
The final evening was a great one as guests not only heard speeches from the winners but had a chance to watch The Best of the Fest shorts. Besides “A Broken House” winning two awards, other films that won Audience Awards included “The Departure” (France) for Best Live Action Short, “Love is Just a Death Away” (Czech Republic) for Best Animated Short, and “Her Dance” (Israel) for Best Student Short.
Bravo to the creators of these compelling films, their dedication to their craft, and for sharing important messages and themes.