It’s the final days before the Palm Springs International Film Festival opens Jan. 3. As if Artistic Director Michael Lerman didn’t have enough to do — rolling out the website, announcing awards, publishing guides — he’s battling a nasty cold. “It’s been long, long, loooong hours,” he says, drawing out the vowels for emphasis.
“The team’s been working around the clock and they’re amazing and tireless,” he says. “I’m amazing and exhausted.”
On the upside, Lerman, now in his third year with PSIFF, knows how to run a film festival. In addition to Palm Springs, he serves as programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival, artistic director for the Philadelphia Film Festival, and co-founder and co-director of the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans.
“Every film festival, there are challenges of some sort that you’re never going to get past,” he says. “This is the hand you’re dealt. This is the town that we have, these are the theaters we have, this is our level of access, this is the amount of money we have, that sort of thing.”
“As you go on, how do you get stuff done? And also, how much is it wearing on you? I feel pleased to be in a sweet spot right now where I am learning to get things done but it is not wearing on me yet,” he adds, laughing. “But, ultimately, you wake up in the morning and you see a great movie, and you get to show it to people — and none of that matters.”
Lerman prides himself on learning the audience and its subsets, and curating the right lineup of films. It’s not entirely about the premieres (although “exclusivity is always great,” he says) but about finding the best films to satisfy a wide range of tastes.
“Programming, good programming, is essentially the art of making a good mixtape,” Lerman says. “You pick the selections you like the most, but it is the flow through, the order, the positioning that really tells the whole story. You are asking people to watch two, three, four movies a day, so you have to ask yourself — ‘When you look back at the whole program, what do you want the audience to come away with?’”
With that in mind, here are 21 suggestions to match whatever mood you’re in with Lerman’s comments.
1. “Bring all the tissues” cathartic tear-jerker
Shoplifters, the most humanistic and moving film I’ve seen…maybe ever.”
2. Comedy to recover from cathartic tear-jerker
“Screwball, the most insane and hilarious documentary that has to be seen to be believed.”
3. Romantic film for a first date
“Funke, because what’s better for a great first date than a great romantic meal prepared by the most methodical pasta maker on this side of the world.”
4. Romantic film for a 10thdate
“Perfect Strangers, because ten dates is the moment in the relationship when you should really start knowing things about each other.”
5. Romantic film for a 25th wedding anniversary
“Cold War, an epic love story for any time.”
Screwball focuses on the 2013 Major League Baseball doping scandal.
BlacKkKlansman is based on a true story starring John David Washington, who plays Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, and Laura Harrier.
6. Check-in bragging rights on social media
“BlacKkKlansman, including a conversation with Ron Stallworth, for whom the film is based on.”
7. Brushing up your fake British accent
“Vita & Virginia, including a memorable one from Gemma Arterton playing Virginia Woolf.”
8. Nostalgic indulgence
“Gentleman Prefer Blondes, a special event including a talk from one of our generations formidable experts on Hollywood nostalgia, author/podcaster Karina Longworth.”
9. Cocktail party discussion material
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a special film with a magic trick of a finale that you can describe for years to come.”
10. Star spotting
“The Public, a star-studded cast led by writer/director/actor Emilio Estevez, who will be with us to discuss.”
11. Transport you to another country
“Village Rockstars, a pure Indian story anchored by a local crew, many of whom are members of the director’s extended family.”
Emilio Estevez will be in attendance for the screening of his film in Palm Springs.
12. Debate over dinner with a group of highly intellectual friends
“The Good Girls, so much to unpack in this subtle, searing tale of class warfare.”
13. Get a melody stuck in your head for days
“Shut Up and Play the Piano, Amazing Grace, so many good music docs that I had to pick two and imagine a Aretha Franklin/ Chilly Gonzales duet.”
14. Question the ending
“Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, too dysfunctional a family for everything to turn out okay in this dark comedy.”
15. Question the meaning of life
“Urgent, too many phases in ones lifetime to encapsulate in just one person’s story.”
16. Question everything about reality
“Border, an allegory that drives home unseen points about the world you’ve been living in all along.”
The Devil We Know illustrates how one synthetic chemical, used to make Teflon products, contaminated a West Virginia community.
17. Shake you to your core
“The Devil We Know, an eye-opening documentary packed with terrifying truths about the world you’ve been living in all along.”
18. Wrap you in a warm fuzzy blanket for days
“Eighth Grade, just the sweetest, albeit brutally honestly, portrait of adolescence.”
19. See some serious money on the screen
“Shadow, just the most beautiful, traditional martial arts epic.”
20. Drench yourself in beauty
“Ladies in Black, with the best period costumes you’ll want to own this year.”
21. Rekindle your hope in humanity
“Yomeddine, with the most unlikely friendship you’ll be glad you bought a ticket to a be a part of.”
An Egyptian leper and his young orphan friend take to the road in director A.B. Shawky’s directing debut.