PALM SPRINGS FILM FESTIVAL 2024: looking back at the year’s best

Last Updated: January 18, 2024By Tags:

Director: Stephen Soucy

James Ivory and Ismail Merchant were famous for their period costume dramas such as “Howard’s End” and “The Remains of the Day,” but the pair worked together for decades prior to those hits and Academy Award-winners—and they enjoyed an even more fascinating history and relationship off-set. Ivory, from Oregon, met Merchant, a Muslim from India, in New York (at the Indian embassy, no less), and soon they were making films together. By the nineties their names would be synonymous with period English dramas and hordes of award statues. Now in his late-nineties, and still working no less, Ivory shares the open secret that he and Merchant were indeed lovers as well as collaborators, and that their romantic relationship was often as stormy as the battles they had over their films. However, the love and respect between them was paramount, and led to some truly amazing work.

Soucy’s documentary examines their lengthy partnership, as well as how the culture evolved such that, only a few years ago Ivory used the occasion of his Oscar win for the screenplay of “Call Me By Your Name” to at last say to the world he was gay. He and Merchant could not have accomplished what they did without their other key partners, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and composer Richard Robbins—both of whom, as with Merchant, are now gone. Thus Ivory stands as the last of his great artistic foursome, and thankfully shares his continuing journey with us. Soucy also speaks to their many collaborators over the decades, including such notables as Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompsons to help round out the story of this most incredible filmmaking partnership.


Director: Lois Lipman

“Oppenheimer” made out like gangbusters at the box office last summer, and is a shoe-in for a string of Oscar nods. As an intriguing counterpoint, Lois Lipman presents the largely untold story of the Hispanic and Native American communities that sat mere miles from the Trinity bomb test site in the New Mexico desert. They were not evacuated after the test, “perhaps” due to racism, and the health effects continue to plague them several generations removed from the time of the bomb test. Activists hold up placards at tourists visiting the Trinity site (which in itself seems rather a dangerous activity given it will be radioactive for millennia) and take their concerns all the way to the halls of Congress; their message is heard and supported, but the follow-through from the Hill is significantly less than they hoped for. Lipman’s interview subjects continue to lose family members to cancer—and even some of the interviewees themselves are gone by the time the credits roll.

“First We Bombed New Mexico” will likely make a pittance compared to Christopher Nolan’s epic, but if there is any justice in the universe, perhaps Nolan might consider including this documentary on the Blu-Ray. To learn more, and help out, visit


Director: Michael Lippert

Carol Sloane may be a familiar name to jazz aficionados, but few outside the genre likely know this incredible talent, who came up alongside Carmen McCare and Ella Fitzgerald, and, when jazz went out of fashion, likewise also hung out with the Beatles and Stones. Sloane never stopped working, even as her fan base dwindled and the tastes of the culture fractured even more. Michael Lippert’s intriguing documentary finds Sloane preparing for one big weekend of shows in New York at age 82, with Lippert sifting through six decades of archive footage—some of which he presents to Sloane herself, who often weeps at the memories. This isn’t so much a story about “one last hurrah” as it is a celebration of the music and its most ardent fans—some of whom also happen to be its most ardent practitioners.

Directors Stephen Ujlaki, Christopher Jacob Jones

During the 2016 election season, and seemingly every day since, the question has been how could self-professed Christians continue to back a thrice-divorced man who gloated about sexual assault. “Bad Faith” puts forward that the union between the religious right and Trump is not merely one of convenience—though it certainly is that too—but just one chapter in a not-so-secret plot by certain sectors to essentially remake the United States as a Christian nation, necessarily to the exclusion of all else. Ujlaki and Jones trace this movement back to the post-Roe world, when charismatic leaders such as Pat Robertson found they could manufacture outrage not just about abortion policies but also stoke white animosity as the culture changed and America became browner. Shocking but not surprising, “Bad Faith” is an interesting film, even if no one will likely be converted after watching it—especially with a bit of a forced happy ending.

Director: Trent Ubben, Jack Jensen

Copper Mountain College isn’t precisely famous for its men’s basketball record, so why do so many promising young athletes continue coming to this small school hidden in the Mojave Desert? For one, the players feel inspired by the work of head coach Walter Parham, who is pressing the team on a final-bid push to make the playoffs in a riveting, down-to-the-wire season. Documentarians Trent Ubben and Jack Jensen take viewers on a journey far away from the televised hoopla of the blue-chip programs, showing us a group of young men—and their fierce coaches—who see hope for the future in the most unlikely of places.

The film is executive produced by NBA All-Star Paul George, who certainly knows his way around the intricacies of the basketball court.

(featured image is taken from “Merchant Ivory,” from the film “The Remains of the Day”)

The 2024 Palm Springs Festival took place January 4th to the 14th.