It wasn’t competition that led to moving the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema (IIFC) from its traditional January run to early March, says Stephen Savage, founder and director. Mother Nature forced his hand.
“For a couple of years, we almost got snowed out,” he says. “We had tons of snow on the streets with tourists coming up to sled in the snow. It was kind of chaotic hosting a film festival in the middle of all that.”
Idyllwild used to conduct its film festival during the same period in early January as the juggernaut Palm Springs International Film Festival. But, Savage says, that’s where the comparisons end.
“The Palm Springs International Film Festival is such a well-oiled machine with big-name stars, there’s really no comparison. It’s a different kind of film festival than ours,” he adds.
With the later date (March 6-11), Savage also wanted to build a buffer between the holidays; it would give staffers a much-needed break, considering the IIFC requires almost an entire year of preparation.
However, Savage did note that of the 300 to 400 films submitted to the festival this year, the 136 films selected are up slightly from last year’s 120 films.
Now in its ninth year, the IIFC also has its own cinematic headliners —many friends of Savage, who is a feature film and commercial director. Last year, Academy Award–nominated actress Anne Archer attended the film fest because she and Savage had worked together on a film. Archer returns this year as a judge on the grand jury that selects the best film.
PHOTO COURTESY STEVE SAVAGE
More than 130 films have been selected to screen at this year's festival.
“The town sells itself. We’re lucky that we’re close to LA and can entice people to come up for the weekend and help us out,” Savage says. “We set them up with a hotel room and a couple of good meals, and they’re happy.”
Past A-list attendees include Daryl Hannah, Erica Christian, Wolfgang Bodison, and Roger Taylor.
One thing filmmakers can expect from the IIFC is that it’s always different. “I would say that 99 percent of the films are new, and they have to be produced within the past two years. We don’t take unfinished films,” Savage notes.
Yet, Savage softens when he talks about a film’s potential. “Sometimes the best films are not technically the best.” Savage says he and his team look at the director’s vision and if he or she is telling a good story. “We’re not so snobby that we’re only going to take the top-grade films,” he says.
This year’s edition will include seminars that focus on how to score your movie or sell your original screenplay. There’s also a charity event with Savage’s 7-year-old niece, Violet. She lost some vision in one of her eyes, but it hasn’t tempered her spirit. She is a regular on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and a big fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and children’s hospitals all over the world.
At the charity event, Savage is also previewing his new pilot, Tucker’s War, a western set in the 1920s. What makes this pilot special is that behind the scenes, Savage’s production company is helping to teach teenage Native American students about the film process in real time.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY STEPHEN SAVAGE
Actress Anne Archer (second from right) returns to the film festival as a judge on the grand jury. Here pictured with Stephen Savage (far right), and Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington and his wife, Kathy.
“We invited high school students from 10 tribes in the area to participate, including Cahuilla, Soboba, Agua Caliente, and others and ended up with 16 to 20 students,” Savage explains. “These kids are being paired with professional actors, cameramen, lighting technicians. It’s the best hands-on experience.”
With the mentoring program, there are an average of 30 to 50 people on the set on any given day. “What makes it special about the Native Americans is they have a storytelling culture that goes back many years,” he says. “They’re naturals, so there needs to be more Native American filmmakers today.”
Savage and another investor funded the first three episodes of the pilot. If it takes off, future funding could come from education grants for Native Americans.
In 2019, when IIFC reaches its 10th year, the festival is eligible for accreditation by the film industry. “We’ll get it," Savage says. “They want to make sure that you hang in there for 10 years. Then we’ll able to get bigger sponsors.”
Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema, March 6–11, idyllwildcinemafest.com