By Betty Francis
I must thank Robert Duvall, who provided the theme for this report on the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala.
When Terri Ketover, co-chair (with Garry Kief) of the after-party, introduced me as a “society reporter” Duvall quipped, “Good – let’s trade gossip!”
So here, in no particular order, are some of the stories, statistics, and gossip — overheard during our town’s most star-spangled night of the year.
Festival Chairman Harold Matzner opened the gala with the startling announcement that worldwide TV and newspaper coverage of this event was bringing the Palm Springs brand to more than 1 billion (with a capital “B”) viewers and readers throughout the world!
Then he added more numbers: over 130,000 attendees, 408 screenings of 190 films from over 65 countries, running morning to night on 15 screens for 12 days.
The gala, which sold out months in advance, drew more than 2,400 guests (all of whom were seated by awards gala Administration Manager Christina Sasse and Matzner’s executive assistant Cynthia Allyn) who dined on a sumptuous dinner of beef short ribs by Savoury’s caterers and owners Brad and Lynne Toles, and helped raise over $2.4 million to keep the festival and its educational programs growing.
Even the short ribs became part of the small talk, with friends of gala Chairman Jim Houston confirming that beef short ribs are his favorite meal and that, with the help of party planner Shari Kelley, Houston supervised every detail of the gala – from the 19,000 “Cartier crimson” fresh flowers to the unique, lighted, crystal apple gift at each place setting. Matzner paid tribute to founder Sonny Bono, honorary Chair Mary Bono, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, and in memoriam, previous Agua Caliente Tribal Chair Richard M. Milanovich, who passed away in 2012.
The five Awards Gala underwriters were Helene Galen, James R. Houston, Donna MacMillan, Harold Matzner and JoAnn McGrath, who collectively donated $500,000, and are, not by coincidence, the five leading philanthropists in the Coachella Valley.
Matzner closed his opening remarks by thanking the festi-val’s year-round staff and 45-member board of directors, who collectively contribute over $1 million annually to the festival; and the smiling army of 950 volunteers who add immeasurably to the upbeat atmosphere of the film festival itself.
Matzner’s co-emcee, Mary Hart of “Entertainment Tonight,” joined him in thanking the gala’s presenting sponsor, Cartier and the gala and festival’s official vehicle, Mer- cedes-Benz.
Brad Pitt turned his introduction of honoree David Oyelowo ( “Selma”) into a comedy routine, teaching the audience of 2,400 VIP’s how to pronounce “Oyelowo” by sounding it out repeatedly and eventually training them to sing it.
Oyelowo responded with, “You know you’ve broken in when Brad Pitt sings your name.”
Shirley MacLaine looked great and drew many laughs, thanking the festival for “recognizing that I’m still alive” and introducing writer/ director Richard Linklater ( “Boyhood”) by saying that when he directed her in a previous film, “He helped me find my inner bitch.”
Julianne Moore, thanking Steve Carell for her comic introduction, joked that, “I can’t believe he actually sang my name.”
One of the gala’s technical improvements this year was the unveiling of the desert’s first and only 150-foot video screen, which stretched the width of the Palm Springs Convention Center’s wall, prompting Hart to quip, “When I saw that screen, I thought, ‘My head’s going to be as big as Lincoln’s on Mt. Rushmore.’ ”
The screen proved its worth, however, giving every guest a front row seat to the action on stage.
Among those donors giving $25,000 and more to the evening were Agua Caliente & Spa Resort Casinos, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Arlene and Jordan Schnitzer, Auen Foundation, Bank of America, Bob Deville & Bob Bennion, Dale and Leslie Chihuly, Eisenhower Medical Center, Guthy-Renker, Jack & Patti Grundhofer, Jan & Mike Salta, Jim Casey, John Kennedy Studio, John Fowler, John Wessman, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Madeline Redstone, Mary Ann LaBahn, Sandy Wessman, and William & Carol Kaplan.
Those donors giving $15,000 or more to the evening included Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, Ava Astaire McKenzie, Brad & Lynne Toles, Desert Regional Medical Center, Eddie Verdugo Jr., Jonas Udcoff & Jacquelyn Fitzsimonds, Judy Allen & Jim Hummer, Kevin & Pam McGuire, Larry & Carolyn Hursh, Kosti and Linda Shirvanian, Patrick Mundt, PS Resorts, Ric & Rozene Supple, Robert & Karen Rishwain, Roberta Conroy, Shirely Kubly, Slovak, Baron, Empey & Pinkney, Todd & Karen Blue, UCR, Wendy Heckmann.
Plus another 130 donors who gave $3,500 to $10,000 to this awesome undertaking which brings an estimated 1 billion electronic and print media impressions of national and international publicity to our city, its merchants and the valley’s No. 1 industry: tourism. These impressions are worth $40 million in advertising time and space. The gala takes place while Oscar ballots for nominations are still out. For that reason, the Awards Gala is considered the first important campaign stop on the Oscar trail.
With all of Hollywood’s concerns about being targets of cyber and other attacks, security was extra tight this year but beautifully handled by well-trained, polite and respectful plain-clothes guards … such as the one who appeared out of thin air to stop me from taking a photo of my granddaughter with Robert Downey Jr. As it turned out, this was not a matter of security, Downey just didn’t want to be photographed.
Among hundreds of supporters present were Shellie Reade, Carol Channing, Kaye Ballard, Jerry Weintraub, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, Ginny Foat, and Paul Lewin; Aftab Dada; Skip Paige, Bill Fold, and Gopi Sangha of Goldenvoice; Danny Verdugo, Alexis Jiaras, David and Lee Permut, Manny and Linda Rider, Sally St. John, Leisa Austin, Shari Applebaum, Paul Orth, Angel Rodriguez, Loly Crespo, Judy and John Ernst, Bradford Bates, Tara Lazar, Barbara and Gene Berlanti, Bobbie Holland, and Lisa and Sean McGrath.
Others enjoying the glamorous evening were Audria Schnitzer, Annette and Ted Lerner, Kevin Parker, Marion Rosenthal, Ron and Sherrie Auen, Catherine and Sandy Reed, Stacey and Greg Renker, Cydney and Bill Osterman, Gayle Hodges; Tristan, Reid, and Melissa Milanovich; Greg and Kyla Burton, Jahira and Raju Mehta, Tim Hanlon and Anthony Klatt, David Vogel, Bob and Wendy Goodfriend, Peter Mahler, Fred Noble, Eric Garner, Gary Hall and Jerry Green, David Baron and Joyce Ohmura, Alyssa and Jeff Grubbe, Nancy Stone, Diane and Hal Gershowitz, Burt Spivack, Stephen Breimer, Karen and Bob Rishwain, Patrick Mundt, and Ellen and Ron Sneider.
Honorees and presenters were presented with gifts from event sponsor Cartier, and celebrity guests arrived at the red carpet in all new Mercedes 2015 S550 sedans and GL450 SUVs.
The gala’s after party was held at the Parker Palm Springs where Matthew Beard, Carrie Coon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Laura Dern, Kim Dickens, Robert Duvall, Alex Lawther, Allen Leech, Richard Linklater, Shirley MacLaine, David Oyelowo, Eddie Redmayne, Jason Reitman, J.K. Simmons, Morten Tyldum, Reese Witherspoon, and many others were in attendance.
The famous faces at this year’s after party were more accessible than last year. The youthful cast of “The Imitation Game” held jovial court on one side of the main reception room, posing for cell phone photos. What they probably didn’t know was that on the other side of the room, an even longer line had formed, consisting of guests who wanted their picture taken with festival Chairman Matzner.
Some of the hard working unsung stars of the evening were executive show producer Richard DeSantis, his producer Alise Mauritzson who ran the red carpet with Steve Wilson of BWR, assistant Jill Ostland, and director Bill Finlay and after party producer Tamara Bolton.