Palm Springs, CA (December 4, 2019) – The 31st annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) will present Zack Gottsagen with the Rising Star Award for The Peanut Butter Falcon at its annual Film Awards Gala. The event, presented by American Express, sponsored by AT&T and Entertainment Tonight and hosted by Mary Hart, is scheduled for Thursday, January 2 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival runs January 2-13, 2020.  

The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of the best feel-good movies of the year,” said Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “Its star Zack Gottsagen gives an outstanding performance as a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from a residential nursing home to fulfill his dream and ends up going on a life-changing journey. We look forward to seeing more of Zack in future roles and it is our great honor to present him with the Rising Star Award.”

Past recipients of the Rising Star Award include Dakota Fanning, Gal Gadot, Anna Kendrick, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander. Gottsagen joins this year’s previously announced honorees Antonio Banderas (International Star Award, Actor) Jennifer Lopez (Spotlight Award), Joaquin Phoenix (Chairman’s Award), Martin Scorsese (Sonny Bono Visionary Award), Charlize Theron (International Star Award, Actress) and Renée Zellweger (Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress). 

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a classic adventure tale worthy of Mark Twain, a down-on-his-luck fisherman and a young man bent on achieving an impossible dream make their way down the waterways of a mythical American South with the help of a succession of colorful strangers. First-time feature writers/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz wrote the film specifically for Gottsagen after meeting him at a camp for actors with disabilities, and attracted Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and Jon Bernthal to join their filmmaking adventure. With critics and audiences cheering its way, The Peanut Butter Falcon became the breakout #1 indie hit of the summer, exceeding $20M at the box office.

Zack Gottsagen made his film debut as the star of a natural childbirth instructional film on April 22, 1985 and has been an enthusiastic performer since his first role as a frog at age three.  Gottsagen was the first child with Down syndrome to be fully included in the Palm Beach County School District. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) he filed one of the first ADA suits, which successfully challenged Little League to include children with disabilities, resulting in all coaches being required to receive training in inclusion. An actor and a dancer, Gottsagen performed with Southern Dance Theatre for 13 years and assisted teaching there, as well as helped teach theater to children at Standing Ovation Performing Arts. Gottsagen has performed a monologue from “Hamlet” at the Black Box Theater at Dreyfoos and starred in the production of “Artie” at the Royal Palm Playhouse. He has been involved with Zeno Mountain Farm nonprofit film productions from 2008 performing in multiple independent movies including Burning Like a Fire, Life of a Dollar Bill, the short film Bulletproof and documentary Becoming Bulletproof. Gottsagen is a leader in SAIL (Self-Advocates & Independent Living) through the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization and is actively involved with Very Special Arts. He won the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award in 2018 for his work in the Down syndrome community and was awarded at their Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show.

About The Palm Springs International Film Festival

The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in North America, welcoming 136,000 attendees last year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The Festival is also known for its annual Film Awards Gala, a glamorous, black-tie event attended by 2,500, presented this year by American Express and sponsored by AT&T and Entertainment Tonight. The Film Awards Gala honors the year’s best achievements in cinema in front of and behind the camera. The celebrated list of talents who have been honored in recent years includes Javier Bardem, Cate Blanchett, Mary J. Blige, Sandra Bullock, Jessica Chastain, George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Gal Gadot, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Regina King, Rami Malek, Matthew McConaughey, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Roberts, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron and Reese Witherspoon. Call 760-969-7533 for Gala tickets or tables, 760-778-8979 or 800-898-7256 for Film Festival information or visit

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