The 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) announced on Monday (19) a new programme 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 foreign language Oscar submissions – eligible for the FIPRESCI prize – and will announce the 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,” festival director Darryl Macdonald said. “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 programme), 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,” artistic director Helen du Toit said. “These films are revolutionary in their own way.

“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 line-up 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.”

Arabian Nights: A Showcase of cinema from the Middle East

Asma’a (Egypt), dir: Amr Salama. 
Devout, careworn widow Asma’a has a secret. She is HIV-positive in a world where the disease is still stigmatised. Ultimately, the host of a daring TV show inspires Asma’a to speak out and fight back – both against her illness and social ignorance.
Cast: Hend Sabry, Maged El Kedwani, Hani Adel, Ahmad Kamal, Sayed Ragab, Botros Ghali.

Cairo 678 (Egypt), dir: Mohamed Diab Bushra
Tackling the issue of sexual harassment, which continues to plague Egyptian society, this social issues drama focuses on three women from different backgrounds.
Cast: Nelli Kareem, Nahed El Seba’i, Maged El Kedwany, Bassem Samra.

Habibi (Palestinian Territories-US-Netherlands-UAE), dir: Susan Youssef.
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? 
Cast: Kais Nashif, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Yussef Abu-Warda, Amer Khalil.

How Big Is Your Love (Algeria-Morocco), dir: Fatma Zohra Zamoum
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.
Cast: Racim Zennadi, Adbelkader Tadjer, Louiza Habani, Loubna Boucheloukh, Zahir Bouzrar, Nadjia Debbahi-Laaraf.

Love In The Medina (Morocco), dir: Abdelhaï Laraki
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.
Cast: Omar Lotfi, Ouidad Elma, Driss Rokh, Amal Ayouch.

Man Without A Cell Phone (Palestinian Territories-France-Belgium-Qatar), dir: Director: Sameh Zoabi
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.
Cast: Razi Shawahdeh, Basem Loulou, Louay Noufi, Ayman Nahas.

On The Edge (Morocco-France-Germany), dir: Leila Kilani.
In the demimonde of nocturnal Tangier, four street-smart young women struggle to escape their poverty turning tricks and pawning stolen valuables.
Cast: Soufia Issami, Mouna Bahmad, Nouzha Akel, Sara Betioui.

The Rif Lover (Morocco-France-Belgium), dir: Narjiss Nejjar.
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.
Cast: Nadia Kounda, Mourade Zeguendi, Nadia Niazi, Omar Lofti, Siham Assif.

Sea Shadow (UAE), dir: Nawaf Al-Janahi. 
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.
Cast: Omar Al Mulla, Neven Madi, Abrar Al Hamad, Khadeeja Al Taie, Aisha Abdulrahman, Ahmad Iraj.

The Three Disappearances Of Soad Hosni (Lebanon), dir: Rania Stephan.
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.

Transit Cities (Jordan), dir: Mohammad Hushki.
A 36-year-old divorcee returns to Amman after 14 years in the US, 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.
Cast: Saba Mubarak, Mohammad Al-Qabbani, Shafika Al Til, Ashraf Farah, Manal Seihmeimat.

Awards Buzz

Forty of the 63 official foreign language Oscar will screen at PSIFF including Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (Iran), Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre (Finland, pictured), Michaël R Roskam’s Bullhead (Belgium), Zhang Yimou Zhang’s The Flowers Of War (China), Emanuele Crialese’s Terraferma (Italy), Joseph Cedar’s Footnote (Israel), Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness (Poland) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turkey).

New Voices/New Visions

The New Voices/New Visions Award will honour one of 10 first-time filmmakers. Jurors are The jury for this program includes: Adopt Film’s Jeff Lipsky, Outsider Films co-founder Paul Hudson and The Weinstein Company’s Tom Quinn.

The films are:
Almanya, Welcome To Germany (Germany), dir: Yasemin Samdereli;
Generation P (Russia-US), dir: Victor Ginzburg;
Habibi (Palestinian Territories-US-Netherlands-UAE), dir: Susan Youssef;

The House(Slovak Republic-Czech Republic), dir: Zuzana Liová;
The Invader (Belgium), dir: Nicolas Provost;
Las Acacias (Argentina-Spain), dir: Pablo Giorgelli;
Last Winter (Belgium-France), dir: John Shank;
Off White Lies (Israel), dir: Maya Kenig;
Old Goats (US), dir: Taylor Guterson; and
Wreckers (UK), dir: D R Hood.

John Schlesinger Award

The award goes to a first documentary feature from anywhere in the festival and will be judged by Oscar winning documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris, Oliver Ike, director of theatrical and non-theatrical sales at Seventh Art Releasing, and Michael Lumpkin, executive director of the International Documentary Association.

The 10 eligible films are:
Arranged Happiness (Germany-India), dir: Daniela Dar-Creutz;
Bert Stern, Original Madman (USA) –Shannah Laumeister;
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (US), dir: Lisa Immordino Vreeland;
Die Standing Up (Mexico), dir: Jacaranda Correa;
First Position: A Ballet Documentary (US), dir: Bess Kargman;
The Three Disappearances Of Soad Hosni (Lebanon), dir: Rania Stephan;
The Tiniest Place (Mexico-El Salvador), dir: Tatiana Huezo Sanchez;
Unfinished Spaces (US-Cuba), dir: Alysa Nahmias, Benjamin Murray;
Wish Me Away (USA), dirs: Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf; and
You’ve Been Trumped (UK), dir: Anthony Baxter

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, honours the film that is most successful in exemplifying art that promotes bringing the people of the world closer together.