Films Programs

True Stories

25 years ago, when the Palm Springs International Film Festival began in 1989, Claude Lanzmann was already four years removed from his landmark Holocaust documentary Shoah. Screening at PSIFF 2014, his latest film The Last of the Unjust continues to explore the moral landscape of those same horrific events. This filmmaker has been at it for more than a quarter of a century!

In contrast, 13 first-time directors are making their documentary feature debuts at this year’s festival. This mix of veteran filmmakers and fresh faces — and all those in between — is what renews and refreshes PSIFF every year. It offers audiences the chance to explore new ground and to re-discover what is familiar, yet still exhilarating.

But what gives rise to this great and diverse collection of films?

Midway through the PSIFF 2014 documentary Monk with a Camera, Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of fashion icon Diana Vreeland, describes how the widow of the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson came to visit him in the Tibetan Buddhist monastery where he had been living for well over a decade. Previously, photography had been his passion and life’s work. But now, not sure whether photography is consistent with his priorities as a monk, he is considering giving it up. She pushes him to pick up his camera again. He equivocates, “Photography is really like the piano, you have to do your scales everyday to really be able to perform.” She responds, “Well, do your scales.”

Year-in and year-out, for 25 years, documentary filmmakers, like the “monk with a camera”, have pursued their art by simply “doing their scales.” As a result, they have created an astonishing body of work that has made an indelible mark on Palm Springs audiences. Our lives have been immensely enriched, and, for this, we thank them.


Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq   

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq
USA, 2013, 87 min.
The greatest ballerina of her time, Tanaquil Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine at 15 and became his muse, and wife. She also inspired devotion from another great choreographer, Jerome Robbins. Then tragedy struck...... more



Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton   

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton
USA, 2013, 82 min.
Celebrating the life and work of poet, experimental filmmaker and visionary James Broughton, Big Joy is an ode to liberation, bisexual desire, and artistic expression. As Broughton put it: "Follow your own weird."... more



Coast of Death   

Coast of Death
Spain, 2013, 81 min.
This dazzling experimental documentary about the people and landscape of the far northwest region of Galicia, Spain, evokes mystery, myth, and the unrelenting beauty of the natural world. A visual feast for those who love big screen spectacle.... more



Continental   

Continental
USA, 2013, 94 min.
Steve Ostrow and his legendary The Continental Baths – the gay hotspot in 60s and 70s New York where Bette Midler got her start – take center stage in this funny, moving documentary blending anecdotes and archival footage into a big-hearted celebration.... more



The Dog   

The Dog
USA, 2013, 100 min.
We’ve all seen "Dog Day Afternoon" and marveled at Al Pacino’s portrait of the gay bank robber who wanted to fund his lover’s sex change. But Berg and Keraudren went further. They spent years getting to know the real, larger-than-life character behind the story.... more



Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me   

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
USA, 2013, 80 min.
She’s brassy and feisty. She’s loud and opinionated. She’s doing it her way and taking no prisoners. And she’s still belting out the songs like nobody’s business. She’s the incomparable Elaine Stritch. Deal with it.... more



Faith Connections   

Faith Connections
India, 2013, 115 min.
Every 12 years nearly 100 million people gather for the Kumbh Mela, one of the most extraordinary spiritual events on earth where in a riot of colors, ash-covered sadhus, yogis, gurus and Hindu devotees gather for ritual bathing in the Ganges.... more



Finding Vivian Maier   

Finding Vivian Maier
USA, 2013, 83 min.
A compelling, eye-opening introduction to an anonymous and mysterious woman who recently found posthumous fame as a giant of twentieth century photographer. "An aptly obsessive study of obsession… Fascinating." Variety... more



For No Good Reason   

For No Good Reason
United Kingdom, 2012, 89 min.
Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman, most famous for the grotesque caricatures accompanying Hunter S. Thompson’s reportage, is the witty subject of this life survey. Johnny Depp visits Steadman in his studio; fans like Terry Gilliam and Richard E. Grant also pay homage.... more



The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden   

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
USA, 2013, 120 min.
A riveting historical documentary set in the 1930s about a headline-grabbing series of events, now long forgotten, in which the Galapagos Islands played host to love, adventure, intrigue – and murder.... more



Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia   

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
USA, 2013, 89 min.
Gore Vidal as you’ve always known him, only more so: more acerbic, more insightful, more brilliant… and more sorely missed now than ever. A fascinating exploration of the life, times and work of the late, great American writer.... more



Grazing the Sky   

Grazing the Sky
Spain, 2013, 87 min.
A revealing look at the life of international circus acrobats, directed by a Cirque du Soleil participant, featuring in-depth interviews and artfully staged footage of the subjects performing breathtaking physical exploits with poise and grace.... more



Ignasi M.   

Ignasi M.
Spain, 2013, 87 min.
Meet Ignasi Millet, larger-than-life Catalan connoisseur, father of two, gay, HIV-positive and ebullient conversationalist. He shares provocative and inspirational thoughts on art, religion, sex, politics… and much more.... more



The Italian Character   

The Italian Character
Germany, 2013, 100 min.
Great music, amazing performers, and Italy – it doesn’t get much better than that. Rome’s Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, one of the world’s great orchestras, stars in this documentary feast for the senses.... more



The Manor   

The Manor
Canada, 2013, 78 min.
"The Manor" is a documentary about your typical Jewish suburban family: mom, dad, two kids and the family business – a strip club in a place called Guelph. Just your typical Jewish suburban family story…... more



Monk With A Camera   

Monk With A Camera
USA, 2013, 90 min.
In this enthralling documentary portrait, Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of fashion icon Diana Vreeland, is headed for life as a high-powered photographer until he undergoes a personal transformation: next stop, life as a Tibetan Buddhist monk.... more



Particle Fever   

Particle Fever
USA, 2013, 99 min.
Will a dream team of brilliant scientists discover the “God particle” or end up wasting billions of dollars on a mad experiment gone bust? Particle Fever tantalizes us with its beautiful imagery, colorful characters, and edge-of-your-seat suspense.... more



Plot for Peace   

Plot for Peace
South Africa, 2013, 84 min.
What if behind the history of the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, there is a hidden history that very few people know about? In this documentary who-done-it, a French businessman's courageous and cunning role comes to light.... more



Purgatorio   

Purgatorio
Mexico, 2013, 81 min.
A fresh look at the harsh realities of the border between the U.S. and Mexico, juxtaposing the stark visual poetry of the fence and the border area with the compelling stories of people who live in a kind of purgatory in its shadow.... more



Slow Food Story   

Slow Food Story
Italy, 2013, 73 min.
The fascinating rise of the Slow Food movement and the man most responsible for it, Carlo Petrini, are the focus of this freewheeling documentary on Petrini’s life and philosophy – a philosophy that emphasizes pleasure as much as it does eco-consciousness.... more



The Square   

The Square
Egypt, 2013, 99 min.
With its indelible images of mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, unforgettable characters and vast and intimate storytelling, The Square movingly depicts the scope and personal cost of Egypt’s recent revolutionary upheaval.... more



A Story of Children and Film   

A Story of Children and Film
United Kingdom, 2013, 101 min.
Film essayist and aficionado Mark Cousins (The Story of Film) turns his gaze on the ways that the movies have expressed the wonders and wounds of childhood on screen, with tantalizing clips from Chaplin, Truffaut, Spielberg and filmmakers unknown to most of us.... more



TWO: The Story of Roman and Nyro   

TWO: The Story of Roman and Nyro
USA, 2013, 72 min.
Famed songwriter/producer Desmond Child (Livin’ La Vida Loca, Waking Up in Vegas) and his long-time partner Curtis fought the good fight for gay marriage and child rearing long before it was commonplace.... more



The Venice Syndrome   

The Venice Syndrome
Germany, 2012, 82 min.
Could the Italian word for Disneyland be “Venezia”? That’s how bad it seems each time another massive cruise ship chugs into port. But spirited locals are fighting back in this witty and poignant look at one of the world’s great cities.... more



What is Cinema?   

What is Cinema?
USA, 2013, 83 min.
If Cinema is a language then Chuck Workman has tracked down its most inspired poets in this rhapsodic deliberation on the purity, grace and still unfulfilled potential of the moving image. With David Lynch, Mike Leigh, Ken Jacobs, Jonas Mekas and Michael Moore, plus more than 100 clips.... more



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