limbo film

Palm Springs ShortFest Touts Talented Field

It's a festival for filmmakers, but the audience also makes out big

Michelle Roe Arts & Entertainment

limbo film
Limbo, directed by Konstantina Kotzamani, drew high praise from Festival Director Helen du Toit.

The Palm Springs International ShortFest is as much about the movies as it is about the film industry coming together to chat about their craft, learn from the pros, and chill in Palm Springs.

The 22nd annual week-long event has become an important platform for directors to debut their work, which accounts for 13 U.S., 46 World, and 63 North American premieres taking place from June 21-27 at Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs.

The benefactors are the movie-going audience, who can trade triple-digit temperatures outdoors for a seat in a cool movie theater viewing a cavalcade of films separated by genres. “The most fun you will have all summer,” says Festival Director Helen du Toit.

Palm Springs Life spoke with du Toit, who breaks down the event featuring more than 300 films from 54 countries.

ShortFest Director Helen du Toit (left) with Penny Bartlett (middle), producer of Blood Below the Skin (and who this year is the fest’s director of programming), and Amanda Salazar of Fandor.

Q: What do you attribute the increase in international films in the festival this year?
It’s a combination of things:

  • We introduced a new online submission platform (to complement our traditional submission process) and having this secondary (way to submit films on-line) cast our net further.

 • I think we have a significant filmmaker following. They come to our festival and have an amazing time here in Palm Springs and, then, spread the word to come whether they have a film in the festival or not.

 • We have a ShortFest Film Market for industry people who attend the film festival. This showcases a library of films (more than 4,100) to industry and international buyers. So even if you submit your film to us and it is not chosen as a ‘festival selection’, we will make your film available at the marketplace.

Q: Why are we seeing more documentaries?
Companies like Netflix make it easy for people to watch what they want online.
Even though movie distributors think they know what people want, lots of films do not get distributed. I’m convinced that the audience wants great filmmaking. Documentaries are pretty specific. By giving people better access, putting them online, people will find them.

du Toit recommends, the film, The Babysitter Murders, by up-and-coming director Ryan Spindell.

Q: The film industry has been criticized for not being as representative with women and people of color. What trends are you seeing at the film festival level and has it been gradual or happening more in the last 5 years?
Women direct 31 percent of the films in Palm Springs ShortFest. This number is going up every year. It’s growing slowly but as more people go to film school and technology makes it easier to become a filmmaker, more women will get into film. We are also taking a more positive action to exhibit (films by and featuring women) at the film festival level…it’s an encouraging environment.

The Palm Springs ShortFest is an international film fest. As such, the number of films by people of color is much higher (than that of Hollywood) because it’s international cinema. You will learn more about the world in a week than you will read multiple newspapers throughout the week by coming to Palm Spring Film Fest. You are actually getting information from people living in those countries, and there is direct representation of the issues in those countries by those filmmakers.

Q: Are there any new genres or an increase in a specific genre of films this year?
They say there are only seven stories and they are told in fresh ways. There are many old themes told in new interesting ways. There is a film, “The Babysitter Murders”, part of the ‘thrills and chills’ genre, that I think is one of the most clever, entertaining, films. It has a female protagonist and spins the usual expectations on its head.

Immigration is a big theme coming up from countries from all over the world both from the immigrant experience and from the eyes of those taking them in.

Another pick by du Toit: Summer of Sarah by director Emma Benestan.

Q: Is it fair to say this is a film festival for filmmakers?
Yes, absolutely it is. This is a film festival that has as many filmmakers attending the short film festival then we do at the feature film festival…it’s a celebration of cinema. We also host a ShortFest Forum and kick off with a Tech Day in partnership with UC Riverside showcasing new cool gear made accessible to filmmakers. There are also chats, panels, and round tables to get access to filmmakers and industry professionals.

Q: What does the festival mean to movie audience members?
You learn a ton. There are very dynamic, young filmmakers extremely knowledgeable about their subject matter. This is a very clever and talented group and there is so much going on here:

 • The “selected” films are the cream of the crop internationally.

 • The bar is high. We show only 327 films.

 • We had over 4,200 submissions; up 31 percent from last year.

Q: We’ve heard actors like Bryan Cranston and Brie Larson talk about how Palm Springs gave them a chance earlier in their careers by showing films they had made. Is there someone who has shown a recent film at ShortFest or is coming this year that may be that next director that we’ll hear about nationally?

 • The director of The Babysitter Murders is destined to be a spectacular horror film director. His name is Ryan Spindell.

 • There is a beautiful film called Limbo by female director, Konstantina Kotzamani. It’s my favorite film in the festival.

 • There is a fresh film from France, Summer of Sarah by director Emma Benestan.

This is a talent-spotting ground. I think agencies should be coming out to this film fest with agents to find the next ‘Best Director’.

Palm Springs International ShortFest, June 21-27, Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Barsito Road, Palm Springs, 760-778-8979;