don bartletti

The Show Must Go On-Line

The Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema will be virtual again this year, but expansion and new venues are planned for 2023.

Julie Pendray Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

don bartletti

"You'll see the migratory routes and physical boundaries that define the border," says Don Bartletti of his photojournalism in The Roads Most Traveled, which is an official selection at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema.

For 13 years, Stephen Savage and colleagues have valiantly brought an annual selection of indie flicks to screens around Idyllwild, the arty, forested village on Mt. San Jacinto above Palm Springs. In “normal times” this added a week of colorful conversations in local restaurants and pubs, as filmmakers from around the globe chatted about their shared love of the art form.

However, the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema will once again be online this year. Viewers can obtain the names of the official film selections on the festival’s website. Some films have trailers that can be found on YouTube or the filmmakers’ social media. The grand jury, including Roger Taylor (drummer of the rock band Queen), Anne Archer (actress/producer), and Alan J. Levi (director credits include NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles) will view the films privately. Audience members will not be able to view the films, but the awards ceremony will be streamed online on March 13 for free.

Meanwhile, big plans are underway for a new surge in 2023.

“We had a great time last year,” says Savage, who is the festival's founder and director. “Even Sundance didn’t have a live festival last year.” But it’s not the way he and executive producer Trinity Houston prefer hosting the event, he adds.

Savage notes 500 tickets were sold in 2020 before the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema switched to an online format due to Covid restrictions. He and Houston will look for bigger venues for 2023 and that will likely mean presenting some parts of their event off the Hill. “We hope to have as many as 200 films next year,” he said.

There are also plans to take it up a notch. In previous years, an occasional award winner has graced the Idyllwild venues in an evening gown or tux. “That’s the kind of thing we want at our awards ceremony,” said Savage. “No more jeans.”

• VIDEO: View the trailer for The Road Most Traveled.

One highlight among this year's selections is an acclaimed documentary by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Don Bartletti, The Roads Most Traveled. Bartletti said that during his 40 years of working for the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, he witnessed “the causes and consequences of migration across our southern border.” He said, “Some of it is beautiful, some is gut-wrenching … the issue is far more complex than a stump speech or party platform.”

Bartletti says the documentary doesn’t have a political agenda. “The filmmakers enabled me to reveal what I went through to create enough photographic evidence to help you make up your own mind.”

Two other strong films are from South Africa, Savage says. One is Rogue, written, directed and produced by African American actress Carly Miller; the other is Margarine by director Thabo Khambule. “Women’s influence has grown in the past 4 or 5 years,” says Houston. “Not just in our festival. It’s reflective throughout the world. It’s very exciting to see the level of creativity that’s happening globally.”


Just A Man and A Woman is a story by Oscar Torre about two people who meet weekly in a hotel.

Among faces familiar to Idyllwild viewers are Oscar Torre and his wife, Chuti Tiu. Torre is a regular on the TV show, The Haves and the Have Nots. He is the writer and director of Just A Man and a Woman in the Idyllwild festival. The film stars Tiu and Roberto Sanchez. Torre and Tiu are both also in Sins and Virtues in the festival.

Other contenders include Neon Bleed, which Savage describes as “a heavy drama, with amazing acting and cinematography.”

In the mood for something uplifting? The Sound of Us is a documentary that, according to its trailer, is about music, hope, redemption and “the need to save humanity.” View the trailer below.

One film, nominated for several awards, is “Hashtag Blessed” by Martina Webster, whom Idyllwild viewers will remember as a local who got into film a few years ago and is “killing it,” according to Houston. Webster volunteered for the Idyllwild Festival and now owns the Show Low Film Festival in the White Mountains of Arizona. Webster said her goal is “to make movies with meaning … more films with substance. All my future projects will have a deeper message.”

In addition to having a bigger vision for the annual Idyllwild event, Savage and Houston will present a new festival in Scotland in April in Peebles, near Edinburgh, working with actress Mhairi Calvey (Braveheart).

“I work with amazing people,” Savage said. “Trinity is amazing to work with. I pretty much just show up and wave my hat and welcome everyone. Trinity is the brains of the operation.”

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