A still from “The Boatman,” opening night feature film for the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema 2016. Photo courtesy of Greg Morgan
A still from “The Boatman,” opening night feature film for the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema 2016.
Photo courtesy of Greg Morgan

The seventh season of the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema promises provocative opening night films, an expanded lineup of 125 features, shorts, documentaries and student films, and valentines to iconic movies celebrating anniversaries in 2016. One “oldie” celebrating its 20th anniversary in Idyllwild even comes with its own DeLorean car.

In the six years since its founding by Idyllwild filmmaker Stephen Savage, the festival has developed a reputation as “must attend” venue for indie filmmakers. Called a “mini Sundance” by the Hollywood Reporter, the festival expands this year to six days to accommodate multiple screenings by the wide variety of national and international submissions. Said Savage, “I had high hopes when I first started laying out the foundation for the Idyllwild festival in 2009, but the past six years have proven to me that even hopes can fall short of some amazing realities. The IIFC moves into 2016 so strong and so viable, I am literally in awe of its potential, as every year the quality of filmmaking gets better and bigger and more inspiring.”

Official opening night Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, films include the U.S. feature “The Boatman,” produced, written, directed and edited by Greg Morgan; from Spain, the official international feature entry “Sonata for Cello,” directed by Anna M. Bofarull; and the official opening night documentary entry, “Rwanda and Juliet,” directed by Ben Proudfoot. Trailers for all three films are available online.

“The Boatman” stars IIFC veteran Oscar Torre in what is being hailed as a breakout performance as a coyote with a perfect record of getting people “across.” Miguel is smuggler of people from Mexico to the U.S., a “boatman” transporting human cargo from one shore to another. Miguel has a providential knack or curse of encountering crash sites where people are dying, as they cross from one shore to another.

“The idea for the script came from my wife [Jeanne Flynn-Morgan],” said Morgan. “What if a truck driver came across a crash and was there to hear the last words of the dying. How would it affect and change that person over time?” Morgan said he used this spiritual element as an overlay on Miguel’s character to see how it affects and changes him as he performs his spotless job as “The Boatman.”

Filmed on location in the high desert of Lancaster and on the Colorado River near Needles., “The Boatman” challenges audiences to understand the longings of these family unification and economic migrants — their desires to escape Mexico’s drug violence, the dangers of the crossing and possibilities of dying — all to rejoin family and   build a safer and healthier life in the U.S. “I’m hoping audiences will see the film and make up their own minds about the issues involved,” said Morgan. “Oscar’s performance is unbelievable. He is so prepared and nuanced, the best type of actor to work with.”

“Sonata for Cello” explores the challenges a world-renowned cellist faces when diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic and painful medical disorder that wages war on her body and her ability to continue her career at the levels of excellence for which she is celebrated.

“Rwanda and Juliet” is a feature-length documentary that follows retired Dartmouth professor Andrew Garrod to Kigali, Rwanda, where he mounts a production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with a company composed of Hutu and Tutsi millennials. For the young woman playing Juliet in the production, the tribal and ethnic divisions that killed over a million people 20 years ago are deeply personal. Her father and many members of her family were murdered by Hutu tribesmen during the 100-day Rwandan genocide.

Garrod believed staging “Romeo and Juliet” with Hutu and Tutsi actors could create openings for healing and reconciliation for the entire country — showing the parallels between the Rwandan genocide and the conflicts between the Capulets and Montagues that doomed Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers.

After opening night and throughout the week, Savage has scheduled a celebration of classic filmmaking for the pure pleasure of it. He will present storied films celebrating anniversaries in 2016, starting with Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future 2,” which turns 20. Both screenwriter Bob Gale and a vintage DeLorean will be in attendance for the festival.

Also on tap, celebrating 40 years, is “The Song Remains the Same,” a concert film featuring the English rock band Led Zeppelin. Filming took place over a three-night period at Madison Square Garden in New York City giving fans what promoters called “a front row seat on Led Zeppelin.”

Turning 50, and also featured at IIFC, is the Robert Wise film “The Sand Pebbles” starring Steve McQueen. Nominated for eight Academy and eight Golden Globe awards, the film was one of the first filmed in Panavision. It was both a commercial success for Twentieth Century Fox and a hit for McQueen. It also was McQueen’s only Oscar nomination. And finally, turning 60 is John Ford’s “The Searchers.” Considered a masterpiece, Robert Ebert called John Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards “one of the most compelling characters Ford and Wayne ever created.” It was named the greatest American Western by AFI in 2008 and placed 12th overall in its list of 100 greatest films. In 1989, “The Searchers” was deemed “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Visit www.idyllwildcinemafest.com for updates and more information on the 2016 festival.