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By Mark Bell | December 21, 2011

The 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival, taking place January 5-16, 2012, has announced the films in competition as well as the Arab Cinema program. From the official press release:

The 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival announced today a new program highlighting Arab Cinema as well as films selected to compete for the FIPRESCI Award, New Voices/New Visions Award and John Schlesinger Awards. The Festival will screen 40 of the 63 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Foreign Language Film. The Festival will announce its complete line-up of films later this week.

“This is the most wide-ranging and cohesive line-up of films and special events the Festival has ever assembled,” said Festival Director Darryl Macdonald. “From our special showcase of new Arabian cinema to the beefed-up archival section and the inclusion of an exhibition focusing on allied arts (with the Marilyn: Intimate Exposures program), the PSIFF has kicked it up a notch, enhancing its standing as an event presenting the best of contemporary world cinema with a celebration of all things cinematic.”

“We’ve all been watching the democratic protests and political upheavals in the Arab world over the past year, and we’ve been excited to find many progressive themes reflected in the new movies coming out of this part of the world. These films are revolutionary in their own way,” said Artistic Director Helen du Toit. “Our Arabian Nights programmer Alissa Simon has identified 11 personal stories that reflect profound generational change and the dramatic tension created by the influx of Western values often in direct conflict with traditional values. Equally striking in this year’s lineup is the discovery of dynamic new directing talent from throughout the world as evidenced by the first features competing for our New Voices New Visions and John Schlesinger Awards. Talented female directors are out in full force this year, with five of the New Voices New Visions directors and ten of the 12 directors in the doc competition being women.”

This program will premiere 11 new films made in the Middle East. The showcase reflects the dramatic upsurge of film production and the concurrent emergence of exciting new filmmaking talents across the region. The films selected in the Arabian Nights program include:

  • Asma’a (Egypt) – Devout, careworn widow Asma’a has a secret. She is HIV-positive in a world where the disease is still stigmatized. Ultimately, the host of a daring TV show inspires Asma’a to speak out and fight back – both against her illness and social ignorance. Director: Amr Salama. Cast: Hend Sabry, Maged El Kedwani, Hani Adel, Ahmad Kamal, Sayed Ragab, Botros Ghali.
  • Cairo 678 (Egypt) – Tackling the issue of sexual harassment, which continues to plague Egyptian society, this social issues drama focuses on three women from different backgrounds. Director: Mohamed Diab Bushra. Cast: Nelli Kareem, Nahed El Seba’i, Maged El Kedwany, Bassem Samra.
  • Habibi (Palestinian Territories/USA, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates) – The first fiction feature set in Gaza in over 15 years offers a story of forbidden love. Can Qays, a poet from the refugee camp, build a future with Layla, the daughter of a traditional, religious family? Director: Susan Youssef. Cast: Kais Nashif, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Yussef Abu-Warda, Amer Khalil.
  • How Big is Your Love (Algeria/Morocco) – A heartwarming examination of childhood and love in modern Algiers. With his parents breaking up, 8-year-old Adel is sent to live with his grandparents. Soon it’s like he’s lived there forever, he’s so intimately wrapped up in their lives. Director: Fatma Zohra Zamoum. Cast: Racim Zennadi, Adbelkader Tadjer, Louiza Habani, Loubna Boucheloukh, Zahir Bouzrar, Nadjia Debbahi-Laaraf.
  • Love in the Medina (Morocco) – In this colorful melodrama, a young man from a conservative Moroccan family infuriates his father when he decides to become a butcher. Soon he discovers that there is only one thing that he loves more than choice cuts…Women. Director: Abdelhaï Laraki. Cast: Omar Lotfi, Ouidad Elma, Driss Rokh, Amal Ayouch.
  • Man Without a Cell Phone (Palestinian Territories/France, Belgium, Qatar) – An Arab-Israeli village’s new cell-phone tower quickly goes from minor annoyance to symbol of oppression. In turn, charming slacker Jawdat abandons youthful aimlessness for activism. Tempering its pointed politics with gentle humour, Sameh Zoabi’s dramedy is an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser. Director: Sameh Zoabi. Cast: Razi Shawahdeh, Basem Loulou, Louay Noufi, Ayman Nahas.
  • On The Edge (Morocco/France, Germany) – In the demimonde of nocturnal Tangier, four street-smart young women struggle to escape their poverty turning tricks and pawning stolen valuables. The film won Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress at the Taormina Film Festival. Director: Leila Kilani. Cast: Soufia Issami, Mouna Bahmad, Nouzha Akel, Sara Betioui.
  • The Rif Lover (Morocco/France, Belgium) – A bold, visually ravishing tale of women struggling against the bonds of tradition as a beautiful but naïve 20-year-old falls into the clutches of a drug baron. Director: Narjiss Nejjar. Cast: Nadia Kounda, Mourade Zeguendi, Nadia Niazi, Omar Lofti, Siham Assif.
  • Sea Shadow (United Arab Emirates) – Set in a small seaside town in the Emirates, this gentle coming-of-age story follows two teenagers on the road to adulthood. Bound by tradition and deeply rooted values, Mansoor and his pretty cousin Kaltham must find the courage to forge their own paths. Director: Nawaf Al-Janahi. Cast: Omar Al Mulla, Neven Madi, Abrar Al Hamad, Khadeeja Al Taie, Aisha Abdulrahman, Ahmad Iraj.
  • The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (Lebanon) – Beautifully conceived and expertly edited, this playful documentary uses a wealth of clips from Egyptian star Hosni’s films to explore the iconic actress’s screen image and shed light on the Arab world’s most popular cinema. Director: Rania Stephan.
  • Transit Cities (Jordan) – A 36-year-old divorcee returns to Amman after 14 years in the U.S., but finds her hometown, family and friends much changed. This affecting drama strikes enough universal notes pertaining to cultural estrangement to resonate with expats of any stripe. Director: Mohammad Hushki. Cast: Saba Mubarak, Mohammad Al-Qabbani, Shafika Al Til, Ashraf Farah, Manal Seihmeimat.

The Awards Buzz section features 40 of the 63 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Foreign Language Film, selected by Festival programmers as the strongest entries in this year’s race. A special jury of international film critics will review these films to award the FIPRESCI Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Best Actor and Best Actress. The 2012 FIPRESCI jury members are Mario Abbade from Almanaque Virtual, Correio Braziliense and Globo (Brazil) and President and Curator of the Rio de Janeiro Association of Film Critics; Nathan Lee, former film critic for the New York Times, Village Voice, and NPR, currently contributing editor of Film Comment magazine (US); and Boyd van Hoeij, critic for Variety, Winq (Netherlands), Mate (US/UK), Filmkrant (Netherlands) and Indiewire (US). The following films selected, in alphabetical order by country, are:

  • Breathing (Austria), Director: Karl Markovics
  • Bullhead (Belgium/Netherlands), Director: Michaël R. Roskam
  • Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Brazil), Director: Jose Padilha
  • Tilt (Bulgaria/Germany), Director: Viktor Chouchkov
  • Monsieur Lazhar (Canada), Director: Philippe Falardeau
  • The Flowers of War (China), Director: Yimou Zhang
  • Alois Nebel (Czech Republic/Germany), Director: Tomáš Lunák
  • Superclásico (Denmark), Director: Ole Christian Madsen
  • Le Havre (Finland/France, Germany), Director: Aki Kaurismäki
  • Declaration of War (France), Director: Valérie Donzelli
  • Pina (Germany), Director: Wim Wenders
  • Attenberg (Greece), Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
  • A Simple Life (Hong Kong/China), Director: Ann Hui
  • The Turin Horse (Hungary/France, Germany, Switzerland), Director: Bela Tarr
  • Volcano (Iceland/Denmark), Director: Rúnar Rúnarsson
  • Abu, Son of Adam (India), Director: Salim Ahamed
  • A Separation (Iran), Director: Asghar Farhadi
  • Footnote (Israel), Director: Joseph Cedar
  • Terraferma (Italy), Director: Emanuele Crialese
  • Postcard (Japan), Director: Kaneto Shindo
  • The Front Line (Korea), Director: Jang Hun
  • Back to Your Arms (Lithuania/Germany, Poland), Director: Kristijonas Vildziunas
  • Miss Bala (Mexico), Director: Gerardo Naranjo
  • Omar Killed Me (Morocco/France), Director: Roschdy Zem
  • Sonny Boy (Netherlands), Director: Maria Peters
  • The Orator (New Zealand/Samoa), Director: Tusi Tamasese
  • Happy, Happy (Norway), Director: Anne Sewitsky
  • In Darkness (Poland/Canada/Germany), Director: Agnieszka Holland
  • Jose and Pilar (Portugal/Spain, Brazil), Director: Miguel Goncalves Mendes
  • Morgen (Romania/France, Hungary), Director: Marian Crisan
  • Montevideo – Taste of a Dream (Serbia), Director: Dragan Bjelogrlic
  • Tatsumi (Singapore/Indonesia), Director: Eric Khoo
  • Gypsy (Slovakia), Director: Martin Sulík
  • Black Bread (Spain), Director: Agustí Villaronga
  • Beyond (Sweden/Finland), Director: Pernilla August
  • Summer Games (Switzerland/Italy), Director: Rolando Colla
  • Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Taiwan), Director: Te-Sheng Wei
  • Once Upon a time in Anatolia (Turkey/Bosnis-Herzegovina), Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • Patagonia (United Kingdom/Argentina, Wales), Director: Marc Evans
  • Rumble of the Stones (Venezuela), Director: Alejandro Bellame Palacios
    The New Voices/New Visions Award will honor one of ten films from top emerging international directors marking their feature film debut at the Festival, with the additional criteria that the films selected are currently without U.S. distribution. The jury for this program includes: Jeff Lipsky, Co-Managing Executive Adopt Films; Paul Hudson, Co-Founder Outsider Films; Tom Quinn, Co-President The Weinstein Company/New Label. The winner will receive a $60,000 Panavision camera rental package. Films selected for this year include:

    • Almanya, Welcome to Germany (Germany) – Neatly structured into two interwoven time frames, this charming, colorfully styled comedy centers on multiple generations of a German-Turkish clan, and derives its touching, laugh-out-loud humor from cultural misunderstandings and the question of what constitutes national identity. The film won Best Film at the German Film Awards. Director: Yasemin Samdereli. Cast: Vedat Erincin, Fahri Yardim, Lilay Huser, Demet Gul, Aylin Tezel, Denis Moschitto.
    • Generation P (Russia/USA) – A poet manqué rises to the top of the corporate heap in 1990s Russia in this delirious satire of post-Soviet culture, a drug-fueled rollercoaster ride through the era of Wild West capitalism, gangsters, oligarchs, and political puppets. Director: Victor Ginzburg. Cast: Vladimir Yepifantsev, Mikhail Yefremov, Vladimir Menshov, Andrei Fomin, Sergei Shnurov, Oleg Taktarov.
    • Habibi (Palestinian Territories/USA, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates) – The first fiction feature set in Gaza in over 15 years offers a story of forbidden love. Can Qays, a poet from the refugee camp, build a future with Layla, the daughter of a traditional, religious family? Director: Susan Youssef. Cast: Kais Nashif, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Yussef Abu-Warda, Amer Khalil.
    • The House (Slovak Republic/Czech Republic) – Contemporary Eastern Europe’s divisions – between generations, genders, economic strata, city and country – are given incisive treatment in this affecting family drama about an ambitious teen, her disowned elder sister and their dour, controlling father. Director: Zuzana Liová. Cast: Judit Bárdos, Miroslav Krobot, Tatjana Medvecká, Marian Mitas.
    • The Invader (Belgium) – The story of an illegal African immigrant whose journey begins in Brussels as he searches, like many other immigrants, for a better place in the world. hrough his confrontation with a harsh society, he slowly but irreversibly starts to incarnate our worst fears and becomes the monster we have created. Director: Nicolas Provost. Cast: Issaka Sawadogo, Stefania Rocca, Serge Riaboukine, Dieudonne Kabongo.
    • Las Acacias (Argentina/Spain) – A gruff truck driver is none too pleased when the woman riding with him from Paraguay to Argentina shows up with a baby. In the course of their journey his tough demeanor thaws, and they form a touching, hesitant connection. Director: Pablo Giorgelli. Cast: Germán de Silva, Hebe Duarte, Nayra Calle Mamani.
    • Last Winter (Belgium/France) – Johann, the head of a farming co-op in central France, runs the cattle farm he has inherited from his father with great care. But economic realities increasingly pressure him to sell. John Shank’s feature debut is effused with a quiet longing for simpler times. Director: John Shank. Cast: Vincent Rottiers, Anaïs Demoustier, Florence Loiret Caille, Aurore Clément, Michel Subor.
    • Off White Lies (Israel) – A poignant comedy about a teenager who returns to Israel to get to know her eccentric father, who is currently “between apartments.” As war in Lebanon begins, the father proposes a creative plan to put a roof over their heads. Director: Maya Kenig. Cast: Gur Bentwich, Elya Inbar, Tzah Grad, Arad Yeni, Salt Achi-Miriam.
    • Old Goats (USA) – Shot in and around Seattle, writer/director Taylor Guterson’s film is an often hilarious and always heartfelt story of three older men (actors Bob Burkholder, David VanderWal, and Britt Crosley, playing themselves) who refuse to go quietly into the night of retirement and old age. Director: Taylor Guterson. Cast: Britton Crosley, Bob Burkholder, David VanderWal, Benita Staadecker, Gail Shackel, Steve Stolee.
    • Wreckers (United Kingdom) – Urbanites David and Dawn (rising stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy) move to the pastoral village of David’s youth, only to have the arrival of David’s soldier/brother Nick—and his revelations about family secrets—threaten their idyll. Director: D.R. Hood. Cast: Claire Foy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shaun Evans, Peter McDonald, Sinead Matthews.

    The John Schlesinger Award for outstanding first documentary feature acknowledges the work of a first-time filmmaker whose documentary is presented in any section of the Festival. The films will be judged by Mark Jonathan Harris, three-time Oscar-winning documentary director of Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, The Long Way Home, and The Redwoods; Oliver Ike, director of theatrical and non-theatrical sales at Seventh Art Releasing; and Michael Lumpkin, Executive Director of the International Documentary Association (IDA). Ten films are eligible for this award, and this year they include:

    • Arranged Happiness (Germany/India) – A loving, first-hand portrayal of a Muslim Kashmiri family’s search for a groom for 27-year-old Waheeda, this humane, mesmerizing documentary provides an intimate and compelling counterweight to widely held perceptions of Islam’s practices in the West. Director: Daniela Dar-Creutz.
    • Bert Stern, Original Madman (USA) – Bert Stern, the original “madman” photographer, sheds light on a fascinating, topsy-turvy life and career that took him from the mailroom to the heights of success as one of the most celebrated photographers of the 1950s and beyond. Director: Shannah Laumeister. With: Bert Stern, Marilyn Monroe, Stanley Kubrick, Elizabeth Taylor.
    • Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel (USA) – Both the inventor and embodiment of the term “pizzazz,” Diana Vreeland ruled over the editorial content of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue for decades. This tribute to one of our greatest style icons blends archival material and interviews with fashion luminaries with a chic, assured hand. Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Co-Directors: Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Frederic Theng. With: Ali McGraw, Anjelica Huston, Manolo Blahnik, David Bailey, Penelope Tree, Veruschka, Lauren Hutton, Diana von Furstenberg.
    • Die Standing Up (Mexico) – The inspiring story of Irina, a tireless fighter in the war for personal freedoms, a transsexual who works for progressive causes from her wheelchair despite a severe disability, and her powerful love story with her partner Nelida, whom she married as a man. Director: Jacaranda Correa.
    • First Position: A Ballet Documentary (USA) – Filled with drama, tension and suspense, this enormously satisfying documentary follows six gifted ballet students from disparate social, regional, economic and ethnic backgrounds as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious competition where the world’s top dance companies and schools prospect for new talent. Director: Bess Kargman.
    • The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (Lebanon) – Beautifully conceived and expertly edited, this playful documentary uses a wealth of clips from Egyptian star Hosni’s films to explore the iconic actress’s screen image and shed light on the Arab world’s most popular cinema. Director: Rania Stephan.
    • The Tiniest Place (Mexico/El Salvador) – The heartbreaking yet hopeful story of Cinquera, a small town in rural El Salvador that was completely depopulated during the Civil War, as told by the survivors who have returned with astonishing resilience to rebuild their lives on their native soil. Director: Tatiana Huezo Sanchez.
    • Unfinished Spaces (USA/Cuba) – Masterfully interweaving art, politics and history, this spellbinding doc recounts the secret history of a little-known architectural marvel, commissioned as a showpiece art school by Fidel Castro, but then deemed “decadent” when he was forced to throw in his lot with the Soviet Union. Directors: Alysa Nahmias, Benjamin Murray.
    • Wish Me Away (USA) – Coming out is never easy, but when you’re a country music star it could also be career suicide. This inspiring, award-winning doc introduces us to courageous singer-songwriter Chely Wright, a devout Christian who also happens to be a lesbian. Directors: Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf.
    • You’ve Been Trumped (United Kingdom) – Anthony Baxter’s biting and entertaining documentary trails “The Donald” as he seeks to build a massive golf resort on unspoiled Scottish coastline and comes up against a spirited group of local landowners who will not go down without a fight. Director: Anthony Baxter. With: Donald Trump.

    Additional awards include the Mercedes-Benz Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Bridging the Borders Award, presented by Cinema Without Borders and Hewlett Packard, honors the film that is most successful in exemplifying art that promotes bringing the people of our world closer together. The prize includes an HP 8560w Elitebook Mobile Workstation with a built-in HP DreamColor display, valued at $4000.

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