PALM SPRINGS FILM FESTIVAL: ‘Lights, camera, security’ at glitzy but well-patrolled Awards Gala

As the sun set in Palm Springs on Saturday, more Hollywood stars than could fit on the cover of a supermarket checkout magazine descended upon the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala.

But while the flashes popped as celebrities including Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon crossed the red carpet, SWAT vehicles surrounded the Palm Springs Convention Center, one of the visible markings of heightened security.

Bomb-sniffing dogs went up and down the walkway in the hours before the celebrities entered, and fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars had to go through a metal detector – as did attendees of the gala.

Even the celebrities had to walk through before entering the ballroom, and there was a noticeable police presence throughout the building.

“Tonight’s gala is being held under unprecedented security,” festival Chairman Harold Matzner said during the ceremony. “Our goal is to keep everyone safe.”

He said there was no specific threat to the event that attracts Hollywood’s brightest stars.

The gala starts the buzz of awards season each year, the honors coming just a week before the Golden Globes and 12 days before Oscar nominations are announced.

During the past three years, 28 of the gala’s 31 honorees subsequently were nominated for an Academy Award, Matzner told the crowd.

Among the talent getting big nods Saturday were Depp, who was given the desert palm achievement award, actor, for his performance as gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in “Black Mass”; Brie Larson, honored with the breakthrough performance award for her depiction of a woman held captive in “Room”; and Blanchett, who received the desert palm achievement award, actress, for her portrayal of a 1950s-era lesbian in “Carol.”

“I think it struck a really compassionate chord in that it’s about falling in love irrespective of your gender or sexual persuasion,” Blanchett said on the red carpet. Director Todd Haynes “has made such an exquisite, beautiful, heartrending film, but it’s still sort of dangerous, I think, and surprising for people.”

The cast of “The Big Short,” a wry take on the mammoth housing and credit crisis of 2008, won the ensemble performance award.

“When you get actors this good, whether known names or just actors that are up-and-coming, you are definitely spoiled as director, but at the same time you want to put them through their paces,” director Adam McKay said.

Stars Christian Bale and Steve Carell were among the cast members in attendance, as was Finn Wittrock.

“The cast was sort of unbelievable,” Wittrock said. “I see the breakdown of the list of like all those actors and to see yourself on the same list, it’s really kind of overwhelming. It still doesn’t quite feel totally real, even though I’m here getting an award with everybody.”

Director Tom McCarthy received the Sonny Bono visionary award, named for the entertainer who once served as the city’s mayor and the festival’s founding father, for his work with “Spotlight,” a film about how journalists at The Boston Globe unearthed a sex scandal in the Catholic Church. The journalists on the Spotlight investigative team were portrayed by actors including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo.

“Most of these actors spent a lot of time with their real-life counterparts. I think they really took their cue from them and sensed the seriousness of their work and their collaborative effort,” McCarthy said. “And in a sense, the ‘Spotlight’ team was its own ensemble.”

The hundreds of fans who had lined up by Saturday afternoon, including some who had been camping out since Friday morning, didn’t mind the extra security.

Karin McLeer of Palm Springs said she loves the energy the film fest brings to town.

“This is like the first awards (show of the year), so a lot of these people will be the people you see at the Golden Globes and at the Oscars as the winners,” McLeer said.

The stars haven’t been burned out on the awards circuit yet. “They’re fresh,” said Robert Ramiada of Redlands, who had been in line since about 8 a.m. Saturday to see Johnny Depp.

“It’s a different vibe, too,” McLeer said. “Here in Palm Springs, we’re a little bit more laid-back than in L.A.”

The film festival, which kicked off Friday, runs through Jan. 11, with a best-of-the-fest program.

Source: The Press-Enterprise