Jian Ping's column
At the Palm Springs International Film Festival, again
Jian Ping is author of “Mulberry Child: A Memoir of
China. “ For more information, visit
www.moraquest.
com  or www.mulberrychild.com. Jian Ping’s blog,
which she keeps with a couple of other authors, is
at
www.smearedtype.com.
Jian Ping
I also interviewed Hong Kong director Scud whose film "Utopians" was also shown at the festival. The film is controversial, on
the theme of liberty of sexuality. He brought two of his male actors from Hong Kong to the festival and I had a chance to chat
with them as well. I’ll leave it to the next column to write about Scud and his films.
Panel discussion with nine directors whose films are   
nominated for Academy Awards for foreign language film
Helen Mirren presenting the Spotlight Award to Actor
Bryan   Cranston
By Jian Ping

I started the New Year by getting on the plane to go to Palm Springs to attend the 27th Palm
Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF). This marks the five consecutive year for me to attend
the festival.

This year, PSIFF started on Jan. 1, the New Year’s day, and the opening evening showcased
The Fencer,” a feature film from Finland by director Klaus Haro. It tells the story of a fencer
during Stalin’s era who escaped persecution by going to a small village to teach physical ed but
ended up exposing himself for arrest when he took the children he taught fencing for a
competition in Leningrad. The film is the country’s Academy Award submission for foreign
language film and has made it to the nine nomination list.  

On Jan. 2, my main mission was to cover the Red Carpet for Xinhua News, however, I did
manage to watch “
45 Years”, a great feature film from UK, directed by Andrew Haigh before
reporting to work. The star-studded Red Carpet walk and the Awards Gala in the evening were major highlights of the Festival.
This year’s Gala attracted 2,400 people and raised more than
$1.5 million for the festival.

I sent off my write up quickly so I could attend the glamorous Gala, courtesy of a friend at a local sponsor’s table. The
atmosphere was electrifying and the food, exquisite and delicious. I was lucky to see the stars in close-range again as the table
I was at
 was on the right front of the stage. Recipients of awards included Cate Blanchett, Johnny Depp, Michael Fassbender,
Saoirse Ronin, Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara, Brie Larson and Matt Damon, and presenters of awards include
d Helen Mirren,
Michael Keaton, Kate Winslet and Scott Cooper.
Mustang director Deniz Gamze Erguven at Variety event  
In the following week, I had a feast of films at the festival,
running from theatre to theatre and watching an average of three
to four films a day.

There
were five venues with multiple screening theatres
showing festival films and they
were located within a three-mile
radius in Palm Springs except one, which
was farther away.  
Free shuttle buses
were provided to take people around, but I
chose to walk (or run) most of the time—it turned out to be not
only more efficient, but also hea
lthier, considering the long
hours I spent sitting in theatres.  

What impressed and inspired me most of the festival
was the
selection of foreign films. Forty out of the eighty foreign films
submitted for the Academy Awards were shown at the festival,
and more, many of the filmmakers were present to do
discussions with the audiences.  
I saw "Mustang," a feature film by first time female director Deniz Gamze Erguven. It tells a moving story of five young girls
coming of age at a village in Turkey. The film also made it to the nine Academy nomination list.

Among the other films that I saw and really like include
"Eye in the Sky" (US. Premiere, special screening), a wonderful UK
feature film that tells the story of today’s anti terrorist war in Kenya and the intricacies of politics and humanities
, and "Everything
is Copy
," a documentary on the life of Nora Ephron, an essayist, writer, screenwriter, and director. The film is witty, biting, and
informative. Hard to believe the “objective” presentation of this loved/feared, and certainly very talented woman
was done by her
son, Jacob Bernstein.  
I also attended a panel discussion with all the nine directors
whose films have made to the nomination list for the Academy
Awards for foreign language film, “the nine that are still standing,”
as stated by Scott Feinberg, Hollywood Reporter who served as
the moderator.

Each of the nine directors talked about their journey of filmmaking,
and the road that took them to the Academy nomination. Amazingly,
a couple of them are first time feature filmmakers, including
Mustang’s director Deniz Gamze Erguven.  

When talking about the filmmaking process and the obstacle she
faced, Erguven said that it was like facing a big boulder on the
road. It stood there for the longest time. No matter how hard you
pushed it, it wouldn’t move. Then slowly it started rolling, and soon
it gained a life of its own.

She used that to describe the experience she had directing
"
Mustang."

She is certainly one of the shining stars at the festival, with her film
winning “Best of the Fest,” a popular vote by the audience, and her
being nominated by Variety as one of the top ten directors to watch.

She is such an inspiration.

I also watched a couple of feature films from China. One is
"
Mountain May Depart" by Jia Zhangke, which I had seen once at
the Chicago Int’l Film Festival last October; and the other is
"The
Assassin,
" by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien.  "The
Assassin
," a film set in the 9th century, won the Best Picture and
“Best of the Fest” awards at the Festival. The plot is vague and
challenging to follow, but every single scene of the film is  
exquisitely shot and beautifully presented. There is not much
physical fighting per se in the film, which, some critics claimed,
showed that Hou had elevated martial arts film to another level.
Back in the cold Chicago, despite fully engaged with
the work that I need to catch up with, my thoughts are
still lingering with the warm feelings and excitement
of the film festival in Palm Springs.