Palm Springs Fest Gives Robert Zemeckis’ Awards Campaign a Boost

"Flight" director Robert Zemeckis to be honored by desert film festival, as Palm Springs and Santa Barbara Film fests jockey to line up awards contenders

Robert Zemeckis has been named Director of the Year by the Palm Springs International Film Festival, making the "Flight" director the latest awards hopeful to be honored by one of the two big January film festivals that double as campaign stops on the awards circuit.

Getty ImagesThe announcement by Palm Springs organizers came one day after the Santa Barbara Film Festival declared "Silver Linings Playbook" star Jennifer Lawrence the Outstanding Performer of the Year.

Palm Springs holds its awards gala on the first Saturday of the new year, which this year falls on Jan. 5, two days after Oscar polls close. Santa Barbara spreads out its awards over a two-week period in late January, after Oscar nominations are announced but before final voting begins.

Both festivals jockey to assemble lineups of probable Oscar nominees, and both are lobbied by Oscar campaigners as they make their selections. The two festivals try to stagger their announcements so as not to compete with each other.

Besides Zemeckis' award, Palm Springs has announced that it will honor Naomi Watts with the Desert Palm Achievement Award for Acting and Helen Hunt with the Spotlight Award.

In addition to Lawrence, Santa Barbara will give its Modern Master Award to Ben Affleck. Robert De Niro will receive the festival's Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, an honor that is presented at a separate black-tie event in December rather than during the festival.