A Brief History of the Palm Springs Film Festival

The first Palm Springs Film Festival took place in 1990, and it has been going strong to date. It came to be after Sonny Bono in the late 1980’s realized that a film festival was the type of event that would help and extend the weak and short tourist season in the Palm Springs. He figured that it would create excellent publicity that would finally put Palm Springs on the map to become a year-round tourist spot.

Bono was serious about his idea, and he put together a team in 1989 to steer into action the logistics as well as planning that has been developing in the previous year. He was in charge of bringing significant sponsors on board. These were the likes of:

  • Wells Fargo Bank
  • American Airlines
  • Metropolitan Theatres.

Sonny also put in the effort to work with influential members of the local community. They are an instrumental part of the festival’s history because they helped with funding in those early years. Among the sponsors were Linda Shirvanian, Steve Chase, Lois Schlecht, John Wessman and Rozene Supple. Shirvanian and Wessman for their part are still major financial supporters of the event since its commencement.

The first festival held in January 1990 was a huge success. It attracted over 17,000 filmgoers in the five-day running course. Organizers were also pleased with the fact that the first Palm Springs Film Festival generated positive press coverage from publications like The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, and Variety.

Great accomplishment did not stop at inception. In the 2nd and 3rd years of the event, the quality of films grew. Presentations also increased with showcases from major US and World Premiers by filmmakers like Luc Besson, Steven Soderbergh, Dennis Porter Mike Newell, Vincent Ward, Gabriele Salvatores, Philip Haas, Nick Broomfield and Paul Cox among many others.

The reputation of the festival grew thanks to the numerous submissions of top-notch programming even though it was just an emerging player in the Festival industry. The excellent programming, in turn, also drew in significant numbers from:

  • Media coverage
  • Film industry participants
  • Great directors
  • Film buyers

The festival managed to launch many films that it premiered to prosperous theatrical runs in North America. Such films included La Femme Nikita, Enchanted April, and Mediterraneo. The latter went to win an Oscar in 1992 for the Best Foreign Language after its premiere at Palm Springs.

One cannot talk about the emergence of Palm Springs Film Festival without mentioning that it was the event where Jimmy Stewart attended to receive an award in 1992. It was a similar case the following year for Marcello Mastroianni and Frank Sinatra. It significantly helped with the publicity of the festival to have such world-renown talent in the 3rd and 4th years. During these years that the occasion became a reckoning force in the industry. There was an encouraging effect in that mainstream media and filmgoers from all over North America boosted the festival.

While in its 5th year, it was already recording huge numbers regarding audience attendees who totaled up to 42, 000. At the time it was running for eleven days, and the people were filling hotels and restaurants as people came from different parts of the country. The festival commanded respect in the filmmakers’ universe. It was behind many people setting foot in Palm Springs for the first time. Many of the visitors found it an attractive place to vacation often and even own second homes.

Its six-years also saw an increase in organizational stability as well as board growth. It was a significant time as it even got a new three-screen theatre thanks to the generosity of Rozene Supple and Ric, her husband. They built the Camelot theatres with the event in mind. At some point, the event lost its glory because of competition and mismanagement. Palm Spring City came to its rescue restoring its original purpose of being a successful cultural event attracting tourism, media attention, and filmgoers. The Palm Springs Film Festival is in its third decade and has come of age drawing major stars, commanding considerable media coverage and attracting a massive attendance base placing it among the top three festivals.


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