Sean Penn will receive the Director of the Year Award for his acclaimed latest film Into The Wild at the 19th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival awards gala on Jan 5.

Past director honourees at this Oscar bellweather include Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Babel, Anthony Minghella for Cold Mountain, Alexander Payne for Sideways and Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

'Into The Wild is a magnificent film that showcases Sean Penn's gifted and powerhouse talent as a director,' festival chairman Earl Greenburg said.

The film is based on Jon Krakauer's non-fiction bestseller about a promising student and athlete who turns his back on materialism and heads off to Alaska in search of peace.

Emile Hirsch, who will be in town to collect the Rising Star award, stars alongside Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt.

The festival is scheduled to run from Jan 3-14.