Newport Beach Film Festival: Take 17

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Film Festival CEO Gregg Schwenk arrives at the festival
Film Festival CEO Gregg Schwenk arrives at the festival

For seven days, sand gives way to cinema as beachgoers take a back seat to the Newport Beach Film Festival, which draws more than 50,000 film fans to the city.

Festival Co-Founder and CEO Gregg Schwenk was the keynote speaker at the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce luncheon earlier this week, and offered attendees an inside look at the festival and its events.

“It was 18 years ago when I sat down with the city and said this is a beautiful backdrop for a festival,” explained Schwenk. “I went to the Toronto Film Festival, to Palm Springs, and thought if these places can host world class events, Newport can do it even better. We had humble beginnings, but last year we had 55,000 people come to watch 350 films from 50 countries.”

Schwenk anticipates record attendance again this year. Many films have already sold out, and more screenings have been added.

Before he covered the highlights of the festival, Schwenk explained the difference between the Newport Beach Film Festival and other festivals.

“You may have heard of Sundance, or Cannes, where films are bought and old. The Newport Beach Film Festival is a lifestyle festival. It’s a place where people enjoy great cinema, where you can meet the people in front of and behind the camera. We do get some business transactions now, it’s about 30 percent.”

Schwenk noted that when the first festival was held 17 years ago, not much notice was paid by Variety Magazine, the bible of the film industry.

“In today’s Variety, we have a 19 page spread talking about the amazing things going on in Newport Beach,” said Schwenk. We are one of five festivals in the world that Variety recognizes with a “10 to Watch” program.

Schwenk gave luncheon attendees what he dubbed his “greatest hits of the festival.”

“For the last two years, we have partnered with Newport Beach and Company to honor international films. Last year was “The Imitation Game,” this year we honored the film “Brooklyn,” which won many BAFTA Awards (the UK version of the Academy Awards).”

For those honors, Schwenk traveled to England, but this year he said they are “bringing it home to honor both up and coming and established artists.”

Among the highlights covered by Schwenk was the Friday UK showcase featuring “Sunset Song,” which he noted had a very “Downton Abbey” feel to it, “High Rise” and “The Man Who Knew Infinity.”

Saturday evening, said Schwenk, features “The Wizard” co-starring Jon Voight, who is attending the screening, and “Love & Friendship” starring Kate Beckinsale, who is being honored in a special ceremony at the Balboa Bay Resort prior to the screening.

He also mentioned the film “Orange Sunshine” and noted that it was about “the brotherhood that existed in Laguna Beach during the 60s—they were the main traffickers in the United States for LSD. Who knew we were the epicenter for that? Screen writer and director William Kirkley came to me 10 years ago and told me he was working on this film. It took him 10 years to get the film made. One screening is sold out, the other is close to selling out, so we may add a third screening.”

He also noted that the documentary “Dirty Old Wedge,” about Newport’s famous surfing spot, has sold out three screenings, and a fourth had to be added.

In partnership with the Newport Beach Library and the Newport Beach Arts Commission, the Festival is hosting a weekend of free seminars that include everything from a Women in Film panel to a virtual reality lounge to seminars on screenwriting, editing, music, directing, and crowdfunding.

Another film singled out by Schwenk is “My Name is Emily.”

“The director contracted ALS seven years ago. He’s confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. He directed the entire movie with the movement of his eye.”

Other highlights, said Schwenk, are the Pacific Rim films on Monday night, the European showcase on Tuesday, the Latina showcase on Wednesday, and the closing night film, “The fixer,” on Thursday night in the Lido Theater.

For a complete list of films, visit

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