Rugby players and guests arrive at The Rustic Theatre on Sunday afternoon to watch ”Red, White, Black and Blue,” an award-winning documentary about the tough game of rugby. Players and families attended the ICF showing. Before the event, they played in the snow and went sledding.Photo by Jenny Kirchner

ICF 2013 played out with some weather challenges, bitter cold and some snow and fog, but the festival buzz among filmmakers and audience was warm and glowing.

Festival Director Stephen Savage at every opportunity credited Chairman Phil Calderone’s many contributions in raising the bar for this year’s festival — from increasing the number of films screened from 67 to 100, for the overall quality of movies screened, for adding new categories (foreign and amateur), and for the smooth scheduling of the films among the three venues, including the Galaxy Theatre, this year’s new venue at Astrocamp.

“Overall, I think it was a great success,” said Calderone. “I received endless compliments from people, all five days, particularly admiring the quality of the films.”

Calderone noted that some complained that scheduling ran too tight between films. But he observed that films in each two-hour time slot contained no more than 90 to 103 minutes of scheduled content. He said the difference was that audience-driven Q and A’s filled the intervening time.

“This is a good problem to have, a choice viewers make,” he said. “Far be it from me to truncate what may be one of the most enjoyable times they are having — the afterglow of an enjoyable experience.”

He noted that Astrocamp’s Galaxy Theatre proved a successful venue. “The overall attendance was great,” he said. “As High as the Sky,’ the Audience Choice winner, screened there, attracting 60 plus people and enough votes to win the prize. The Astrocamp staff, Larry Kawano and Chris Malott, was great, going out of their way to help us. The theatre itself was great — totally dark with great picture and sound. They even upgraded their projector in time for the festival.”

Digital screening at the Rustic, an improvement that puts IFC on a par with major festivals, showcased each film beautifully at the festival’s primary theatre. Rustic owner Shane Stewart’s decision to install digital equipment was motivated in part to ensure quality screening for ICF for years to come.

Per screen attendance at the three festival venues was up from previous years, according to festival Director Stephen Savage and Chairman Phil Calderone. Calderone said he’d have actual numbers soon.

Another important improvement Calderone ushered in this year was permitting carry-in food in festival venues. Previous year attendees had complained that they had to choose between viewing and eating, since there was not enough time between films to eat.

Big winners at the ICF 2013 Awards Ceremony were Gary King’s stunning musical “How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song”, which took the best feature film prize. Gary King also won for best director and his film won the Casey Abrams Award for best soundtrack.

“Red, White, Black and Blue,” the stirring South Los Angeles high school rugby saga, captured Best Full Length Documentary. Over 100 current players, alumni and parents and friends filled two buses for the premiere screening of this film. The story of rugby players from South L.A. travelling to compete against primarily Maori teams in New Zealand played to an enthusiastic full house at the Rustic. A-list movie and television actor Billy Campbell, also a rugby player who had played in the Santa Monica Rugby Club under coach Stuart Krohn, had provided the film’s narration and attended the Idyllwild screening.

Two foreign-language films, a new category for ICF this year, previewed in previous Crier articles, won awards. One, for Best Foreign Language feature, was Slava Ross’s “Siberie Monamour” (from Russia). For Best Foreign Language Short, the winner was Pouria Heidary Oureh’s “Beyond the Dead End” (from Iran). The Russian film also won for best feature cinematography for Yury Raysky. Calderone was particularly excited about this category and the quality of submissions that added real international distinction to the festival. Festival buzz about both films was very strong – for “Siberie” for its haunting visual look and for “Beyond the Dead Zone,” for its touching and messianic story of a vagrant man and his prized pair of shoes.

Other winners included “The Bunglers” as best featurette, best sound and best director (Glenn Camhi). Best director of a short went to “Soliloquy,” producer, director and actor Josh Murray’s modern take on the Bard’s “Macbeth.” Murray is next seen in Ridley Scott’s upcoming National Geographic’s “Killing Lincoln,” as Booth’s co-conspirator. J.D. Metlock won for best cinematography for “Soliloquy.”

New York Director David Spaltro’s “Things I Don’t Understand,” an extended riff on spirit, community, tenderness and friendship, took home awards for its lead actress, Molly Ryman and for best ensemble acting.

In other acting categories, Oscar nominee and past Golden Globe winner Sally Kirkland won for best actress in a featurette, the Alzheimer’s themed “Posey.” “Posey” director Billy DaMota stopped by the Crier on Monday to say how touched Kirkland was for her ICF 2013 acting award. Kirkland is a method actor who studied with famous acting coaches Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg. Kirkland counts Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman as her beginning-actor classmates under Strasberg. (See box for full list of awards).

For most, filmmakers and audience, ICF year four seemed solid and professional, and seemed to be the time when the festival crossed from upstart beginner to long-term contender.