From Venues Today

by Dave Brooks
Published: January 7, 2014

The Palm Springs Convention Center has seen its profile rise to Oscar-caliber buzz each January with the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary, Jan. 3-13.

According to Film Festival spokesman Steven Wilson, the festival has grown to include 187 films from 60 countries, screened at movie houses across Palm Springs, including 77 film premieres. Created by former mayor and music star Sonny Bono in 1989, the festival has continued to grow even after Bono’s death in 1998 into a precursor for the film industry’s award season.

In fact its opening gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center has become an important lead up to the Academy Awards on March 2 and an important stopover for celebrities trying to generate excitement for their Oscar-contender films. Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Gary Oldman all walked the red carpet leading into the convention center’s 92,000-sq.-ft. ballroom. Other celebs who spoke at the Gala included Matthew McConaughey, who accepted an award for Oscar-contender “Dallas Buyers Club,” Sandra Bullock, who accepted the Achievement Award for “Gravity,” Meryl Streep, who received the Icon Award for her appearance in “August: Osage County,” and Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, who received Best Ensemble award for the film “American Hustle.”

“It’s become an important lead up to the Oscars and that’s brought in many celebrities over the years who are in and among the attendees,” said James Canfield, GM of the SMG-managed facility.

The Opening Gala has an attendance of about 2,200 with an additional 800 staff members, part-time workers, volunteers and international media in attendance.

“We feed all of them,” said Canfield. Concessions are handled by in-house firm Savoury’s Catering, an independent firm owned by chef  Brad Toles, which also handles bar service.

The 2,200 seats available for the event sold out two months in advance, with tickets priced from $350 per plate, all the way up to $5,000 a seat for prime locations. Some sponsors spend $50,000 for a table at the event. While the event is promoted independently by the Independent Film Society, the city of Palm Springs is a sponsor, contributing $300,000.

Besides staffing the huge event and providing additional security to protect celebrities, Canfield said the biggest challenge is providing site lines so that the 2,200 members in attendance have a good view of the stage and the three massive big screens that sit behind the audience.

“They bring in a special team just to make sure the site lines are correct, and have some tables on risers to get the view correct,” he said. “This event isn’t televised, it’s just for the people in the room so there is a big focus on making sure everyone can see.”

The film fest is also a chance to show off the building, which went through a major renovation in 2005, and several dozen meeting planners are invited to attend the event in hopes of drumming up future business.

Interviewed for this article: Steve Wilson, (212) 901-3954; James Canfield, (760) 322-8414.