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International directors swap tips at retreat during Palm Springs film festival

The recently concluded Palm Springs International Film Festival, which prides itself on showcasing an extensive roster of foreign-language films in its public programs, has for the last handful of years also sponsored a private event for some of the filmmakers who make the trip out to the desert.

Spearheaded by the festival's creative director, Helen Du Toit, the festival stages a retreat at the scenic and historic Sunnylands Center and Gardens in Rancho Mirage for a day of conversation and interaction. Most of the participants were filmmakers from other countries.

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This year's retreats, held this month, featured one day with 16 fiction feature directors and another day with nine documentary filmmakers.

Attending the day for fiction filmmakers were Paddy Breathnach ("Viva," Ireland), Saskia Diesing ("Nena," Netherlands), Deniz Gamze Erguven ("Mustang," France), Heidi Greensmith ("Winter," United Kingdom), Ciro Guerra ("Embrace of the Serpent," Colombia), Grimur Hakonarson ("Rams," Iceland), Slavek Horak ("Home Care," Czech Republic), Klaus Haro ("The Fencer," Finland), Naji Abu Nowar ("Theeb," Jordan), Raam Reddy ("Thithi," India), Raf Reyntjens ("Paradise Trips," Belgium), Michal Rogalski ("Summer Solstice," Poland), Adriano Valerio ("Banat," Italy), Leena Yadav ("Parched," India), Yareed Zeleke ("Lamb" from Ethiopia) and Yorgos Zois ("Interruption," Greece).

Early in the day producer Ron Yerxa arrived and by taking a seat amid the oblong circle of chairs that ringed a small conference room, immediately set the dynamic as more of an extended conversation than a formal address.

"I thought it would be nice to deliver a big profound talk," Yerxa joked. "Unfortunately that doesn't seem about to happen."

Rather he spoke candidly about various issues in the making of films with his producing partner Albert Berger, relating stories from the making of such notable American independent films as "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Ice Harvest," "Election," "Low Down" and "Nebraska."

The directors responded to his candor by quickly dropping any wariness of their own, engaging with Yerxa and one another. Through the day they would share stories, problems and questions on a wide range of filmmaking issues, including the strings that can come with some funding, the process of casting, how best to shoot a sex scene and the art of wrangling large crowd scenes.

By the time the group broke at the end of the day for cocktails and dinner — where they were joined by some of the documentary directors as well — it seemed as if connections had been made and perhaps even a few questions genuinely answered. The festival strives to bring the world to Palm Springs; now the filmmakers could take some of these conversations out into the world.

As Yerxa noted earlier in the day, "What I think is so great about why you're here and the work you do, these films open a world of perceptions."

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