Sunday afternoon, the Rustic Theatre filled in anticipation of the awards ceremony for the ninth-annual Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. Photo by Peter Szabadi

It’s almost noon, a hazy sunlight abounds, yet, the stars are already out in front of the Rustic Theatre in Idyllwild. This day, March 11, is awards day for the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema that has been reviewing and showing independent films since March 6. Which films, filmmakers and actors will receive awards has already been determined and when we enter the Rustic Theatre for the actual awards event, they will be revealed.

Although Idyllwild was deluged with rain for almost 24 hours in advance of this awards event, the weather looked kindly upon the festival, and it stopped raining a few hours before the awards ceremony was scheduled to begin. The rain ceasing, and the sun peaking, brought people outside, and they are sitting or milling about the outside of the Rustic Theatre.

Martina Webster, producer/CEO of DarMar Production, is involved in three films showing at this festival: “Evie’s Christmas Gift,” “Passage” and “Neonatal.” Martina said all these films deal with real-life situations. About her festival experience, Martina

The Children’s Film Festival, held at the Idyllwild Library, was a very popular part of the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. Photo by Peter Szabadi

said, “all the experiences here were wonderful. You can make connections for a lifetime. You can meet an actor that would perform for a film, find songs at a good price and the actual workshops are free.” She attended both workshops and found them very worthwhile. Martina says of Idyllwild, that it is “friendly and beautiful.”

Judy and Frank Tuma have been coming to the festival every year for nine years. Judy said she and Frank do “general judging, man-on-the-street judging.” Frank said, “the importance of this film festival can’t be overstated. Anyone with the desire and ability to make a film can enter. Stephen Savage has really accomplished something special with this film festival. It shows that even in a little town you can make America great again. You can put your ideas together to make your dream come true.”

Lauren Terelli is an actor, writer, director and producer. Of the festival she said it “has been a memorable experience with wonderful, helpful people.” Lauren was with Peter Hanford. He said, “The community informs the vibe of the festival, and the festival informs the community.” Lauren added, “You come here feeling stressful, but Idyllwild relaxes you.”

Executive Producer Christine Young, said “the featurette ‘Walk With the Devil’ has been nominated in 13 categories at the festival.” Alison Chall and Frank Brullo, a husband and wife team, together wrote, directed and produced “Walk With the Devil,” and they are humbled and honored by the nominations.” Christine said, “Steve [Savage] and Trinity [Houston] did such a wonderful job hosting this festival. Everybody gets a change to meet and greet. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Zack Brown’s film “Hard Surfaces,” which he wrote and directed, was chosen the Best of the 2018 Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. Joining Brown to receive the honor is Julia Voth, who starred in it and was the producer.
Photo by Peter Szabadi

Tom Basso, an actor and consultant for I71 movies, acted in “Dark Iris” as a consultant who choreographed all but one of the fight scenes. Tom said “Dark Iris” is his first feature film. “It was shot throughout Central Ohio in 14 days on a budget of $60,000,” he said. Basso is new to acting. He is an ex-law enforcement officer. He started acting a year ago. He said the fight scenes were all in some form of martial arts. He is a Black Belt. He added that the fight scenes were “done in two days, then we spent a day on set until the scenes were finalized.”

Kenneth Castillo is a director and writer. His seventh feature film “Marigold the Matador” was been nominated for nine awards at the festival. Castillo said the film festival “has been very organized and is the most filmmaker friendly of any film festival I’ve ever attended.”

Violet Brielle Spataro, 7, is a cancer survivor, a regular on the “Ellen Show,” a spokeskid for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the author of the Live Love Foundation through which she sends gifts of toys to hospitals around the world that treat

March 6 was the first day of the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. That night, filmmakers from around the world — (from left) Shea E. Butler, Stacey Black, Dave Jessup, Don Hollowell, Matt Simpkins, Gregory Thomas, Marku Otz and Luisa Neri — gathered at Creekstone Inn to celebrate. Photo by Steven King

children with cancer. She also is an actress, as she played herself in Brett Culp’s documentary “Look to the Sky.” She also is Stephen Savage’s niece and helped him at the awards ceremony.

While being interviewed, Violet asked if she could name her favorite cartoons. They are: “Star Wars,” “Forces of Destiny,” “Pokemon,” “Super Mario” and all Disney films but especially “Steamboat Willie.” When asked what she thought about being part of the festival she said, “I feel awesome about being here.” When asked about how she felt being in a film she said, “I loved being an actress.”

Ryan Fenton-Strauss produced, directed and edited the documentary film about his artist father called “Paint As You Like.” Ryan said his documentary deals with “struggle, success and failure” and looks at the question, “What is art.” He said his film is a narrative that “weaves biography with painting to find the psychological connection.” His dad was primarily an oil painter for 50 years. When his father was in his 20s, he was selling abstract oil paintings to museums. Later, his father’s career dissolved.

What Fenton-Strauss likes best about the festival is “getting together with friends and family and celebrating together.” He said the festival “is a warm community in a lovely place.”

Andrea Martina and Christina Maria Davis both act in a web series called “Halfway.” It’s about “girls living in a halfway house who are unsuccessfully dealing with their addictions.” It is a comedy of errors. The production is from an all-female company called Chicks Making Flicks. Christina said, It is amazing that Idyllwild is so close to L.A. yet so relaxed” in comparison. She also said that being at the festival is a “great opportunity to meet filmmakers and everyone who is passionate about filmmaking.”

The doors to the Rustic Theatre open, and it is time to go in. It is a packed house.

Carolyn DeGrave, who is narrator, said that Stephen Savage is “wonderful to work with.” Then Stephen, founder and director of the festival comes on stage, calling to his side his niece Violet. He said, “Violet is the beauty, and I am the beast.”

Savage said he thinks the festival has the “best films, as a whole, than we’ve ever had.” He then mentions friends who include Marshall Hawkins of Idyllwild Arts Academy, creator of the “famous jazz festival,” and Capt. Leonard Purvis of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Hemet Station, who was in attendance, who “keeps us safe and makes us smile.”

Stephen said that at this ninth festival, he’s “seeing a lot more women and minorities making great strides in the film industry”.

The Riverside County Film Commission had Stephanie Bettina represent them. She said that filming in the county is “the best choice, economically and visually, for your next film.”

Stephen introduced IIFC Executive Producer Trinity Houston who the IIFC website calls “the woman at the helm.”

Actress Erika Christensen was “2018 IIFC Honorary Co-Host.” To quote the IIFC website, “It is her girl-next-door charm, her straight-ahead professionalism and dedication to craft that has made her such a sought-after performer in both film and television.” She has appeared in TV shows such as “Frasier,” “The Practice,” “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Parenthood,” as well as movies such as “Traffic” when she played the daughter of Michael Douglas.

The list of award winners can be found at

Top Awards

Best of Festival Overall: “Hard Surfaces”

Best of Festival Audience Choice: “Krieg”

Best of Festival Director’s Award: “Butterfly Caught”

Best of Festival Producer’s Award: “Early Mourning”

Best Feature Film: “Hunting Lands”

Best Actor Feature Film: “Lies We Tell,” Gabriel Byrne

Best Actress Feature Film: “Dark Iris,” Rebekah Hart Franklin

Best Director Feature Film: “Hard Surfaces,” Zach Brown

Best Supporting Actor Feature Film: “To Dream,” Freddie Thorp

Best Supporting Actress Feature Film: “Hard Surfaces,” Julia Voth