Big things spring from small seeds, and it was indeed a small packet of seeds that Newport Beach Film Festival founders Gregg Schwenk and Todd Quartarero planted 20 years ago when the duo conceived of a film festival with the city of Newport Beach serving as a luxurious backdrop.
Fast forward 20 years. Those initial seeds have grown into an international success story that has exceeded expectations.
The 20th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, which runs April 25 – May 2, is a milestone for many reasons.
“We are the largest film festival in coastal Southern California, and the only major festival that takes place between February and November,” said Schwenk, who serves as the Festival’s CEO. “We are the best in class not only on a regional level but globally. We have an action sports program, art and architecture, environmental, youth, culinary. I look at the selections for this year (which will be officially announced April 1) and they are titles that are going to resonate and engage with our community.”
“We are tremendously proud and excited about our 20th anniversary,” added Schwenk. “We have an amazing lineup of award-winning films from other festivals, including US, North American and World Premieres. We have the largest commitment from filmmakers attending in the history of the festival. Everyone is excited to be coming to Newport Beach.”
Schwenk said he is pleased with the accessibility of the festival, including keeping ticket prices affordable and creating more seminars and free opportunities for audiences.
“It’s going to be a remarkable anniversary for us.”
The opening night of the festival on April 25 features the West Coast premiere of a film called “Luce” that had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Directed by Julius Onah and starring Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth and Norbert Leo Butz, “Luce” is about a married couple forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student.
“It was one of the most talked about films at Sundance” and was nominated for the Grand Jury award said Sara Sleeger, director of programming for the Newport Beach Film Festival. “It’s a strong film, we’re excited to be opening the festival with it.”
“This year we had our very first kickoff for the 20th anniversary at Sundance on opening night,” added Schwenk. It was an event not to be missed—a beach party in the snow. The line stretched up the street many blocks. We’re very pleased about the reception we received at Sundance.”
The closing night film is called “Part of Water” and is about the late Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson. It traces his life and the tragedy that happened when he died saving the life of a swimmer in distress.
“It focuses on the impact he’s had on Newport Beach and the greater community since his passing,” said Sleeger. “It’s a very powerful film, a perfect way to bookend our 20th year with a local film that is important to the local community.”
In between opening and closing night are nearly 350 films from 50 countries, from full length narrative and documentary movies to short subjects and music videos.
The Newport Beach Film Festival will have the complete list on its website starting Monday, April 1, at NewportBeachFilmFest.com.