January brings bitter cold to much of the Northern Hemisphere. But while people living in snowy, icy environs hunker down, those in Greater Palm Springs wander out under sunny and starry skies to experience a winter wonderland of culture.
Having founded the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival (one of three locally based, multiday events in just the first month of the year), longtime Coachella Valley resident Jamie Kabler exudes pride over his role in the “world-class festivals in our community.”
Kabler revels in the excitement surrounding the desert’s first major gathering of the year: the Palm Springs International Film Festival — from its star-studded gala and opening-night feature to the vast array of foreign film screenings.
“I have gone to a Swedish film and then to an after-party with the Swedish ambassador,” he enthuses.
On the other hand, he says, he particularly enjoys seeing the abundance of local talent at the Southwest Arts Festival in Indio.
It’s a triumvirate of spectacles across the valley, bringing exceptional films, literature, and artworks center stage.
Here’s what you need to know.
29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival
The Palm Springs International Film Festival may lack the je ne sais quoi of Cannes, and it wasn’t founded by a movie star like Sundance (though it does have Sonny Bono among its progenitors), but it has prestigious timing between Oscar submission deadlines and nominations.
“We are really the best of the [film] year,” says Michael Lerman, PSIFF artistic director. “We cull together all the best films that have been on the [festival] circuit. Part of that is presenting foreign language Oscar submissions.” The 29th annual iteration presents almost half of the 90-plus foreign language Oscar contenders.
PHOTO COURTESY PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Thoroughbreds is among the must-see picks for the 2018 edition of the film festival.
While previous years have highlighted countries with up to five films, this month’s programming will include seven or eight from Argentina alone, “because they’ve had an extremely strong year in film,” Lerman says. “There were so many good ones, and we didn’t want to say no to any of them.”
Among the offerings are The Summit and The Future Ahead, which were hits at, respectively, the Cannes and Toronto festivals. Another Argentine film, Rey’s Education, will receive its North American premiere here. Even those not attending the awards gala can view the red-carpet arrivals Jan. 2 (and possibly grab an autograph from or selfie with luminaries who wander over to greet fans).
Lerman points to two other not-to-be-missed aspects of the two-week event: the Talking Pictures and Book to Screen series. The former features revelatory, post-film Q&As with producers, directors, and cast members. The latter is an extension of what was a two-day event into an integration of films throughout the festival.
Fifth Annual Rancho Mirage Writers Festival
Avid readers, writers, and publishers have spent enough hours in ergonomically challenged chairs to appreciate the fact that Kabler spent two days testing rental-house furniture to find comfortable seating for Rancho Mirage Writers Festival attendees. He is proud of the fact that his event stands apart from typical writers festivals by being held in a library — surrounded by books, of all things! — versus a “what city are we in?” hotel or convention-center ballroom.
PHOTO COURTESY RANCHO MIRAGE WRITERS FESTIVAL
Jamie Kabler welcomes guests at the writers festival.
This year’s “Gloriana Britannia” theme translates to a British invasion of eight writers, including the Duchess of Cornwall’s son, cookbook author Tom Parker Bowles. The full lineup of 50 writers includes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, as well as two recipients of the MacArthur Genius Grant (Viet Thanh Nguygen, whose The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer, and Colson Whitehead, whose The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer and National Book Award).
“The emphasis [of the festival] is on biographies, memoirs, and history,” Kabler says. But one of the presentations he’s excited about comes from Scripps Translational Science Institute’s founder and director, Dr. Eric Topol (The Patient Will See You Now), who believes in the power of digital medicine.
“He says he no longer prescribes drugs — he prescribes apps,” Kabler says in evident awe.
The festival’s drawing card for attracting authors lies partly, of course, in the area’s favorable January weather.
“It’s 70 degrees in this desert oasis, where I’m attending a writers’ festival, and I’m looking up at a vista of snowcapped peaks, cerulean skies and pink clouds that looks like a Bob Ross painting, only happier,” began Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens in a Rancho Mirage datelined article in 2016.
But Kabler says there’s more to the festival’s allure than the climate.
“Writers love it because they find our readers to be so smart and well informed,” he says.
32nd Annual Southwest Arts Festival
Cathedral City resident Richard Curtner exhibits his word-mosaic creations at more than 26 fine art shows a year. He loves Indio’s Southwest Arts Festival not only because it is in his backyard, logistically speaking, but also because it is in his backyard in terms of outdoor ambiance.
“Before I was a participant at this show, I was a patron,” says Curtner, who has been juried into the exhibition for the past 14 years. “There is no better place to be in January than at this show. There is no better weather in the country, and there are no better surroundings. It is such a relaxing, peaceful environment.
“I have developed real friendships at the show, particularly with collectors,” he adds. “Every year my sales have increased, and every year I make new friends and make awesome art finds.”
PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD CURTNER
Artist Richard Curtner’s homage to Warhol.
Although the festival includes 250 artists, Curtner feels that the show is laid out in such a way that it never feels overcrowded or cramped.
“And because it stretches over four days, you never feel rushed,” he says. “You can purchase a pass for all four days and take your time and talk to the artists. It is impossible to go to the show and not fall in love with a one-of-a-kind artwork. These are professional artists with museum-quality work of all styles, sizes, and price points. There is something for everyone.”
Indeed, there seems to be something in the desert for everyone in January — unless you yearn for the insularity of a bitterly cold clime.