The Palm Springs International Film Festival is canceled due to the current rise of COVID-19 cases.
The Palm Springs International Film Society said in a statement it's the "most responsible decision" to ensure the safety of its patrons, filmmakers and staff. Passholders will receive a refund according to original method of payment.
The festival was scheduled to run Jan. 7-17. Passholders would have been required to show proof of full vaccination, photo ID and sign a waiver to enter venues and events, which also applied to the film awards ceremony. Attendees would have also been required to wear masks after California recently reinstated its mask mandate for indoor public spaces. The policy extended to volunteers, staff, guests, sponsors, media and vendors.
Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton said in a statement that the city is "disappointed" the festival cannot go forward.
"We know how much this event is anticipated, but we also recognize the risks involved in holding the Film Festival at this time – and with that in mind, we congratulate Chairman Harold Matzner and his team for putting public safety first," Middleton said.
Aftab Dada, chair of hotel association PS Resorts and general manager at the Hilton Palm Springs, said it was the "right decision" to cancel to ensure people stay safe, but that it "hurts even more" to cancel another festival within two years and the impact it will have on local restaurants and retailers.
"It's a huge loss, specifically for the City of Palm Springs considering it's the slowest two weeks of the year in the desert. Lots of groups were booked from San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles," Dada said.
Jeffrey Bernstein, owner of the Palm Springs-themed merchandise store Destination PSP, is the official merchandise partner for the festival. He said he's "devastated" after recently opening a pop-up store inside Regal Palm Springs with film festival items, which will now be sold at 50% off.
"We always sell the merchandise year-round, but obviously this next month would be the primary selling time," Bernstein said. "We understand why it's necessary, but like the people at the festival, our team put a tremendous amount of work into getting ready for this.
Tom O'Brien, a Palm Springs resident and film writer for websites such as Next Best Picture and GoldDerby, was planning on seeing 22 movies during the film festival's run, averaging about three a day. With several COVID-19 mitigation measures in place, "particularly the vaccination mandate," he said he felt "safe" attending. However, he also understands the decision to cancel.
"Of course I'm sad that the Coachella Valley won’t be able to see this remarkable collection of films from all around the world, but I believe the Film Society is acting responsibly by canceling the in-person screenings," he said. "It was the right thing to do."
The announcement comes a week after the cancellation of the Palm Springs International Film Awards scheduled for Jan. 6 at the Palm Springs Convention Center.
Stars who were expected to attend the film awards included directors Jane Campion and Kenneth Branagh, actors Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, Andrew Garfield, Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz and the casts of "King Richard" and "Belfast."
The last in-person film awards ceremony was in 2020 and honorees included director Martin Scorsese and actors Joaquin Phoenix, Adam Driver, Jennifer Lopez and Charlize Theron. A crowd of about 500 fans, hoping for autographs or selfies, typically gathers at the entrance of the Palm Springs Convention Center to greet stars as they walk the red carpet. That tradition was not expected to be part of the 2022 ceremony.
The Palm Springs event typically boasts prime position on the festival circuit calendar, held the first week in January to precede the Golden Globe Awards and the Oscar nominations voting deadline.
The Palm Springs ShortFest is scheduled to return June 21-27 and the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Film Awards in January 2023. The 2022 Film Awards will partner with Entertainment Tonight to celebrate this year's honorees. The festival will announce juried award winners from the official selection on Jan. 15.
Events that were canceled last year but still scheduled to return in 2022 include Modernism Week in Palm Springs on Feb. 17-27, BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 7-20 and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach country music festival in April at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.
COVID-19 cases and omicron
The nine Coachella Valley cities on Monday reported the largest week-over-week increase in COVID-19 cases in recent months, approaching numbers seen during the delta surge in the summer.
There were 701 cases reported in the week ending Monday. That is a 66% increase compared to 422 cases reported between Dec. 13 and 20. Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage each doubled the number of cases reported in the week ending Monday compared to the previous week.
Riverside County has also seen a bump in its weekly COVID-19 numbers. The county added 3,082 new COVID-19 cases between Dec. 20 and Thursday. Even though the full week was not reported due to the holiday, that is still up 21% from the 2,546 cases reported Dec. 13 to 17.
On Tuesday, California became the first state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections.
The first case of the omicron variant has also been confirmed in the Coachella Valley, following a "major" COVID-19 outbreak at Mastro’s Steakhouse restaurant in Palm Desert.
Riverside County Public Health has confirmed nine total omicron variant cases in the county, as of Monday.
Omicron makes people sick faster than earlier variants, according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that confirms what many have already observed.
Although most cases of omicron appear to be relatively mild, people generally get COVID-19 symptoms three days after being exposed to the virus, rather than about four days with delta and five or longer with the original virus, the study concludes.
USA Today contributed to this reporting.
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bblueskye. Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs International Film Festival canceled due to rise in COVID cases