There aren't many opportunities for budding Canadian filmmakers like Andrew Cividino to end up in the same room as his favourite Hollywood directors.

The writer-director of the coming-of-age film Sleeping Giant, which premiered at Cannes and is making its American debut at the Palm Springs Film Festival, said he was blown away to see directors like The Martian's Ridley Scott at the festival.

"There's this really amazing cross-over and cross-section between the official competition with first features and these emerging voices, and being in that same space and celebrating films along with the other Oscar-contending, larger films of the year," said Cividino.

That's part of what makes the Palm Springs Film Festival, which runs until Jan. 11, unique. It has a special program highlighting Canadian cinema with 10 films.

Jack Martin, Andrew Cividino, Nick Serino, Reece Moffat

Thunder Bay filmmaker Andrew Cividino, seen here in plaid with Sleeping Giant actors, took his film to the 2016 Palm Springs film fest. (Teryl Brouillette/Roundstone Communications)

But it's also a magnet for performers and filmmakers who want to get in that final plug for their movies. The festival takes place around the same time as Academy members are voting for who will become official contenders for the Oscars.

Not surprisingly, the Jan. 2 gala fundraiser was filled with glamour.


Actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith attend an event at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Sunday, Jan. 3. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images )

Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender, Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett were just some of the high-profile names to walk the red carpet and schmooze throughout the evening.  After all, many of the attendees tend to be members of the Academy.

"It really draws attention at a critical moment before people have that opportunity to dig in and really think about who they might want to vote for," said Cividino.

The festival's artistic director, Helen du Toit, says the festival is key for several reasons. It has the largest selection of foreign-language films that are contending on the Oscar short-list. It also includes programming involving people with recent buzzworthy performances. This year, that includes The Martian's Matt Damon and Concussion's Will Smith among others.

Helen du Toit

Artistic director Helen du Toit, who is a Canadian, speaks at the opening of the 2016 Palm Springs film fest.

"Essentially, what we're trying to do is draw attention to people who are looking very likely to be Oscar nominees and winners and we've had a great success rate with that over the years," said du Toit, a Canadian who splits her time between Toronto and Palm Springs.

She also says that while the big names might get the spotlight, Canadian work continues to feature prominently. This year's foreign-language Oscar submission Félix et Meira got knocked out of contention, but du Toit says there's no question Canada is a strong competitor internationally.

"All over the world, other film festivals recognize the strength of film in Canada," she said. "For Canada's size, it's punching way above its weight."