Palm Springs, CA
Ema Sasic | Contributed
You may think you watch a lot of movies, but Beth Ellen Fromm most likely earns the top spot in this competition.
She goes to the movies every Friday night, a childhood tradition, so there’s at least 52 movies under her belt. As the executive director of the Desert Film Society, she also previews around 300 films from festivals all around the world until she finds the 24 that will make the cut for that year’s program.
“It came out to like close to 360 movies that year,” Fromm recalled. “As you know, some of them are worth watching, and some of them are really … bad.”
It’s a tough job for one’s brain and eyeballs to keep track of so many different characters, plots and twists, but when you’re trying to deliver a diverse slate of foreign films and documentaries each year through the Desert Film Society, someone’s got to do the heavy lifting.
And local film aficionados looking for non-blockbuster, arthouse flicks can catch the 24 winners, two per month, at 10 a.m. on select Saturdays at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.
Fromm has been at the helm of the film organization for two decades and the objective has been unchanged: show movies that are not scheduled to play anywhere else in the desert. In those 20 years, she’s only had to cancel two showings so far.
The executive director said she avoids science fiction and horror films because they’re “not big with the audience,” but people love dramas, and she tries to find documentaries, often with ties to the movie industry, to screen as well.
In order to find the year’s slate of films — two each month — she browses film festivals from all around the world. If a movie’s synopsis piques her interest, Fromm said she reaches out to get a copy of the print for her group. Then come long hours of trying to narrow down upwards of 300 films to just 24 that will play in a year.
“If I see a movie and absolutely love it, it’s a done deal, I’m going to try to get it,” Fromm said. “If I think, well it’s OK, I put it out to a few other people in my group to see what they think of it.”
The rest of this year’s programming is filled with premieres, a mix of cinema from different countries and a few appearances from filmmakers.
“La Civil,” a Mexican film directed by Teodora Mihai, will have its Southern California premiere on Sept. 10. Based on a true story, “La Civil” follows Cielo, a mother hoping to bring her kidnapped daughter Laura back home. When authorities offer no support in the search, Cielo decides to take matters into her own hands. The film stars Arcelia Ramírez, Álvaro Guerrero, Jorge A. Jimenez, Ayelén Muzo and Juan Daniel García Treviño.
Fromm had two reasons for selecting “La Civil” for the Desert Film Society audience: “It’s not that often that we get a movie from Mexico to show” and “it was just engrossing.”
Other international films on the lineup include “De Son Vivant” (“Peaceful”) and “Entre la Vie et la Mort” (“On the Edge”) from France and Belgium, “Sous le Ciel d’Alice” (“Skies of Lebanon”) from France and “Otac” (“Father”) from Serbia.
As audiences prepare for the wide release of “Blonde,” a fictionalized telling of actress Marilyn Monroe’s life, played by Ana de Armas, later this month, desert dwellers can catch the documentary “Dream Girl: The Making of Marilyn Monroe” for a more factual understanding of her childhood and adulthood. The documentary dives into the intimate psychological journey of the blonde icon, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, and features interviews with relatives and experts in the psychology field.
Monroe has several connections to the Palm Springs area, but perhaps the most easy-to-see today is the 26-foot-tall statue of her iconic subway grate scene from the film “The Seven Year Itch” that stands tall in the city’s downtown area.
The documentary will screen Sept. 17 as part of Cinema Diverse, the Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the star’s untimely death.
Having filmmakers present at screenings was common prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fromm said, but on Nov. 19, attendees will be treated to two guests. Filmgoers will see a screening of the documentary “Silhouette Secrets” about Charles Burns, a modern silhouette artist, who decides to take a journey back in time to explore the history of his shadowy art. Along the way, he meets Cindi Rose, the world’s fastest silhouette artist, who challenges him to a duel.
Burns and director Andi Reiss will hold a Q&A session following the screening. Afterward, a reception will take place where Burns will create attendees’ silhouettes.
The December films, scheduled for Dec. 3 and 17, have yet to be announced.
Desert Film Society screenings cost $15 cash at the door for non-members and free for members. Pastries and coffee are provided with admission.
Guests are asked to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, which include proof of vaccination with at least one booster shot and allowing a two-seat buffer between parties and not sitting directly behind anyone. Masks are recommended.
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