Thousands of film fans and hundreds of filmmakers will be descending on Newport Beach April 21-28 to enjoy the 17th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, one of the most respected and popular film festivals in the country.
This year’s Festival features more than 400 films from 50 countries, a new record that affirms the festival’s notoriety.
The Festival opens with the world premiere of “After the Reality” starring Matthew Morrison (who was raised in Orange County and attended OC School of the Arts), and closes with “The Fixer” starring James Franco.
In between are a variety of feature films, shorts, documentaries, action sports films, and music videos, plus filmmaker seminars, special guests, tribute films, and an expo with industry experts.
Newport Beach Indy editor Christopher Trela sat down with Festival co-founders Gregg Schwenk and Todd Quartararo, plus film programmers Max Naylor and Cade Russell, for an inside look at the myriad aspect of this year’s Festival.
Behind the Scenes at the Newport Beach Film Festival
Imagine watching 3,000 films over a period of six months. Seems impossible, but the staff at the Newport Beach Film Festival are used to doing the impossible.
More than 3,000 films were submitted to this year’s festival, and according to Director of Features Programming Max Naylor, each one is viewed a minimum of five times before a decision is made whether or not to include it in the festival.
“It’s a lot to get through,” admits Naylor, who noted that many of the films are short subjects so it takes less time to watch, yet that number would be daunting if not for the many volunteers who screen and review the submitted films.
Some films, however, are individually selected to open and close the festival, or to anchor nightly spotlights on certain genres or countries.
“We kick off the festival with the world premiere of ‘After the Reality’ starring Matthew Morrison. It’s a great romantic comedy and we’re proud to have the world premiere, especially with the local connection of Matthew having grown up
in Orange County,” said Newport Beach Film Festival Co-founder and CEO Gregg Schwenk.
“That will be shown at the Edwards Big Newport theater—we’re taking over the bottom three theaters as well,” added Co-founder and Festival Marketing and PR director Todd Quartararo. “The opening night reception will be back at Fashion Island, with 30 of the area’s top restaurants, and special performances from ‘Ka’ by Cirque du Soleil. Those are the things that make me excited.”
“That’s what sets us apart from other film festivals—the things that Todd and Gregg put together in addition to the films,” noted Naylor.
Those extra elements include filmmaker seminars, nightly receptions, Q&A sessions after screenings, and this year a film expo at the Newport Beach Civic Center, a new venue for the festival that already uses 15 movie theater screens in Fashion Island and at The Triangle in Costa Mesa.
“I am pleased that we have made the festival more focused on Newport Beach; the bulk of daytime screenings are in Newport Beach throughout the week,” said Schwenk. “We are leveraging the great facilities we have here.”
Other new additions to the festival, said Associate Director of Features Programming Cade Russell, include environmental programming, a Sport program (separate from Action Sports) that includes documentaries on Olympic swimming and tennis, plus new media (including a virtual reality component). And after last year’s success at Horror film programming, they’ve expanded it for this year’s festival.
Back this year: spotlights on Germany, Ireland, Asia, and the UK, with whom the Film Festival (in partnership with Visit
Newport Beach) has forged stronger relationships, plus a college filmmaker program at Sage Hill.
Film Festival parties are always an annual highlight, and this year is no exception.
“The Friday night event is at Anthropology in Fashion Island,” said Schwenk. “It’s a greatly expanded and enhanced location, it’s a beautiful transformation. They will be reopening that day, so our party is in celebration of their grand opening.”
On Saturday, the Festival party returns to Room & Board in South Coast Village, while Sunday’s bash is held at Muldoon’s Irish Pub—a perfect spot after the Irish showcase movies.
Monday and Tuesday parties are at SOCO in Costa Mesa. Wednesday and Thursday (closing night) will be at Via Lido Plaza, next to the Lido Theater.
Naturally, that begs the question: will the Film Festival be able to use the now shuttered Lido Theater, which just announced it will reopen in a few weeks as a movie theater again (after more than a year operating as a concert venue)?
“We are talking with the Lido’s ownership and management; hopefully we can have our closing night film there,” said Schwenk. “That whole area is going through a real renaissance, and the opportunity to shine a light on that area is important.”
Other noted screenings during the festival: “El Dorado” starring John Wayne, a special Disney program with rarities from the Disney vaults, a documentary on local celebrity chef Pascal Olhats, and a film on Laguna Beach in the 1960s called “Orange Sunshine.”
Special honorees at the Festival this year include Rita Moreno and Burt Bacharach, both of whom have films in the Festival.
Schwenk noted that the Festival takes 40,000 to 50,000 hours of volunteer time, and that amount grows every year as more events and activities are added.
“Without volunteers, this would not be taking place,” said Schwenk.
For more information and a complete list of films and activities, visit NewportBeachFilmFest.com.