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Newport Beach Film Festival Guide

Next week, the Newport Beach Film Festival will kick off its 20th annual celebration of the arts and culture in big form. With last year’s event bringing more than 50,000 people to Orange County from around the world, this year is sure to be monumental. Everything will kick off Thursday, April 25, with the festival’s Opening Night Gala following its opening night film. The 3,000 person event, which will take place in the center of Fashion Island, boasts food prepared by 30 of the top Orange County restaurants, a DJ, a hosted bar by Tito’s Vodka and Peroni, and a live performance by Side Deal, the Newport-formed band consisting of members of Train, Sugar Ray and PawnShop kings (plus some special, surprise guests).

The Newport Beach Film Festival is currently the largest film festival in Southern California, with over 120 narrative features and more than 200 short film screenings, plus its wide selection of parties and events. Because of its size and prestige, some locals might view the festival as just another pretentious, Hollywood-centric event that requires a ton of money or industry knowhow just to get in the door. But the festival’s creators want the citizens of Orange County to know that is not the case.

“This is for the entire community. This isn’t for the film industry, it’s for everyone, throughout Orange County and Southern California, to participate in,” said Gregg Schwenk, the festival’s founder and CEO. With tickets for some screenings as low as $16, much of the festival is easily accessible to everyone in the surrounding area. Says Schwenk, “Even if you’ve never been to a film festival, this is the year to come.”

Still, the vast scope of the festival can be enough to make the untrained festival-goer feel lost in a sea of choices. To help you decide where to spend your time, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top films to see based on your interests. Even if you can only make it to one film screening, being a part of this year’s festival is something you will not forget.

Irvine Weekly’s Newport Beach Film Festival Guide

 * an asterisk notes films made by local O.C. residents or films focused on O.C. subjects.

The Headliners

The big ones. These films open and close the entire festival, which means they’re ones you should not miss.

Opening Night – “Luce”

Thursday, April 25, 7:00 p.m.

A former child soldier from Africa, adopted by white parents and naturalized in America, becomes a star athlete and top student in his suburban Virginia high school – only to find his close-knit family life and impeccable academic record challenged by a teacher after she discovers unsettling political views in a homework assignment.

“Part of Water” – Photo courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival

Closing Night – “Part of Water” (World Premiere) *

Thursday, May 2, 8:00 p.m.

When most people think of ocean lifeguards, they think of Baywatch; but that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Part of Water” tells the tragic story of fallen lifeguard Ben Carlson, who lost his life in the line of duty while on a rescue during a massive swell in 2014. Through Ben’s story, “Part of Water” sheds light on the countless dangers that ocean lifeguards face and helps earn them the respect they’ve always deserved.

For those looking to laugh (and maybe cry)

These films are some of the major comedies hitting the festival screens. Of course, with every comedy comes a good amount of heart, and by the end of them you may find yourself feeling a whole range of emotions.

“Babysplitters”

Saturday, April 25, 2:45 p.m.
Wednesday, May 1, 5:30 p.m.

Jeff and Sarah are struggling to come to an agreement about having a baby. Sarah is ready, Jeff is not. Their mutual friends Don and Taylor have the opposite problem – Don wants kids and Taylor doesn’t. When the two couples hatch a plan to share one baby between them, it seems like they may have found the perfect compromise – until things spiral out of control.

“Papi Chulo”

Saturday, April 27, 8:00 p.m.

A lonely TV weatherman strikes up an unusual friendship with a middle-aged Latino migrant worker. Starring Matt Bomer.

Laugh Loud and Short Shorts

Saturday, April 27, 8:30 p.m.

Everybody needs a laugh. This series provides a mixed bag of comedic shorts, from animations about troubled animals attending a therapy session to nuns who share grilled fish.

For those looking for love

Whether it’s a comedy, drama or somewhere in between, these films exemplify a variety of experiences in falling in love.

“The Tomorrow Man”

Friday, April 26, 8:15 p.m.

Ed Hemsler spends his life preparing for a disaster that may never come. Ronnie Meisner spends her life shopping for things she may never use. In a small town somewhere in America, these two people will try to find love while trying not to get lost in each other’s stuff. Starring Blythe Danner and John Lithgow.

“Pink Wall” – Photo courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival

“Pink Wall”

Friday, April 26, 8:30 p.m.

A modern-day romance following the six year relationship of Jenna and Leon. Intimately told through defining moments along their journey together, the film explores how both friendship and resentments grow as the pressures of adult life confront them.

“Them That Follow”

Saturday, April 27, 8:30 p.m.

Set deep in the hills of Appalachia, members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers risk their lives to attest themselves before God. The pastor’s daughter – whose forbidden relationship forces her to confront the dangerous traditions of her father’s church – must hide a secret that has the potential to drive the church to ruin. Starring Academy Award Winner Olivia Colman.

LGBTQ+ Shorts

Sunday, April 28, 4:30 p.m.

Nine fantastic films that showcase the emerging talent and stories that need to be heard from the perspective of the LGBTQ+ community. Not all of these films are love stories, but they are all sure to make you feel something deep in your heart.

For surfers, skateboarders and action sports fans

The Newport Beach Film Festival is the largest action sports film presenter in the country. There is a whole selection of films in their line-up to see, but here are a few standouts:

“The Tony Alva Story” *

Saturday, April 27, 8:15 p.m.

61-year-old Tony Alva is considered by many to be the godfather of modern-day skateboarding. Alva’s brand of aggression and bravado paved the way for skating as we know it. This film chronicles Tony Alva’s humble beginnings on the streets of Santa Monica to his rise to superstardom as part of the legendary Z-Boys, a punk skater subculture. His inevitable implosion and his ultimate rise from the ashes to accept his rightful place as a beacon of hope has given inspiration for generations of skateboarders all over the world. Plays with the short film Love Letter to China. Both films are presented by Vans, whose headquarters is in Newport Beach.

“Unstoppable” *

Monday, April 29, 5:30 p.m.

Bethany Hamilton’s inspirational and untold story follows her journey from childhood into motherhood – the ups, downs and her powerful resilience against all odds to become one of the leading professional surfers of all time. From chasing her toddler, to chasing the biggest waves, Hamilton is continuously rewriting the rules on being a fearless athlete, and brings new meaning to the phrase “surfs like a girl.”

“Can’t Steal Our Vibe” – Photo courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival

“Can’t Steal Our Vibe” *

Sunday, April 28, 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, April 30, 3:45 p.m.

Tag along on an adventure from San Clemente to Cape Town as pro surfers the G-Boys and Michael February immerse themselves into the vibrant culture of South Africa on a journey to inspire youth in impoverished townships across the country.  

“Surfing Circle of Honors for Surfers by Surfers” *

Friday, April 26, 5:30 p.m.
Monday, April 29, 5:45 p.m.

Short film on the Guinness World Record of surfing circle of honor, the largest recorded paddle out in the world. For surfers by surfers. This “it takes a village” story demonstrates the power of teamwork.

For Artists and Creative Souls

The festival’s Art, Architecture + Design Series has plenty of wonderful choices. There are also several other films in the line-up that provide representation for a wide variety of creative outlets. Highlights include:

“Queen of Paradis” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“Queen of Paradis” *

Sunday, April 28, 5:45 p.m.
Wednesday, May 1, 12:00 p.m.

After selling out her first exhibition in Los Angeles in 2016, artist Reine Paradis embarks on a dangerous and surreal road trip across the United States to complete her next body of work. It’s an all-out adventure and an in-depth look at what it takes to make art today.

“Neutra – Survival Through Design” *

Sunday, April 28, 2:00 p.m.

After earning his architecture degree and serving in the Imperial Army in WWI, Richard Josef Neutra made his way to Berlin, where he worked under the tutelage of Eric Mendelsohn and was associated with the pivotal Bauhaus design school (returning as a guest teacher in 1930). After moving to America, he landed in Los Angeles and completed the Lovell Health House in 1929, still recognized as a masterwork of modernist design. He designed hundreds of projects around the world and is known for his conceptual and practical, steel and glass designs, with a vision toward environment, ecology and livability.

“Dancing with the Sun: The Artwork of Manuel Hernandez-Trujillo” *

Tuesday, April 30, 5:30 p.m.

This film tells the story of Manuel Hernandez-Trujillo’s art and how he helped restore a stolen culture during the Chicano movement, and the resonating legacy he leaves behind as an artist, activist and educator.

“I am known as an artist, Wharton Esherick” *

Tuesday, April 30, 5:30 p.m.

The Wharton Esherick story recounts the life of a seemingly obscure artist who nevertheless influenced an entire art movement.

“Art Paul of Playboy” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“Art Paul of Playboy: The Man Behind the Bunny”

Monday, April 29, 7:45 p.m.
Wednesday, May 1, 5:30 p.m.

Art Paul, the designer of the iconic Playboy bunny logo, created a lasting impact in graphic art and design throughout the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. As the founding art director of Playboy magazine, he paved the way for one of the most significant cultural phenomena in America. Through interviews with Paul and former Playboy executives, as well as archival footage and imagery, this documentary highlights the life of a legendary art director, acclaimed artist and inspiring human being.

“Honey West: The Gloria Fickling Story” *

Saturday, April 28, 1:30 p.m.

The story of one groundbreaking woman who opened the door to new roles and portrayals of women in books and television. Author Gloria Fickling is a Laguna Beach resident.

“What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael”

Thursday, May 2, 7:45 p.m.

Pauline Kael was likely the most powerful, and personal, movie critic of the 20th century. Writing for The New Yorker and publishing a dozen best-selling books, she ruthlessly pursued what made a movie or an actor’s performance work, or not, and why. Her passion made her both admired and despised amongst her readers. Pauline’s own story is one of struggle and obsession: The fight to establish her voice and have it heard, and raise a daughter on her own in a time when the obstacles were high.

“Put on Your Dancing Shorts”

Thursday, May 2, 6:00 p.m.

A collection of nine dancing shorts. Put together in collaboration with The Wooden Floor, a dance-focused nonprofit based in Santa Ana.

“Well Groomed”

Saturday, April 17, 2:30 p.m.
Monday, April 29, 12:30 p.m.

From South Carolina to California, New York to Arkansas, we spend a year alongside four women transforming their beloved poodles into living sculptures. Become immersed in the humorous and visually stunning world of competitive, creative dog groomers from their homes to large-scale dog grooming competitions and showrooms where their communities meet, discuss and compete with technicolor exuberance.

“Cosplay Universe”

Sunday, April 28, 3:15 p.m.

Dive into the world of Comic-Con sub-culture by following several international cosplay teams as they compete in the “Olympics of Cosplay” at the World Cosplay Summit in Japan. Tap into the psychology behind this art of self-expression and go in-depth on how Cosplayers transform into the most iconic characters in today’s popular culture.

For those in touch with the Earth

The festival’s environmental series focuses on raising awareness of the important issues affecting our planet. Some top picks include:

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch”

Saturday, April 27, 8:00 p.m.

Third in a trilogy that includes “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013), the film follows the research of an international body of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group, who, after nearly 10 years of research, are arguing that the evidence shows the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-20th century, as a result of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth.

“The Pollinators” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“The Pollinators”

Saturday, April 27, 3:15 p.m.
Wednesday, May 1, 5:30 p.m.

Honey bees pollinate one third of the food we eat, yet honey bee populations in this country have fallen by half since the 1940s and continue to decline. Our very food system is under threat and rests on the wings of these tiny insects and the commercial beekeepers that move them from farm to orchard, pollinating crops that native pollinators can no longer adequately accomplish due to our agricultural practices involving pesticides; and politics are making that simple act of nature more difficult every day.

“The River and the Wall” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“The River and the Wall”

Monday, April 29, 6:00 p.m.

Follow five friends on an immersive adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands as they travel from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes and canoes. They set out to document the borderlands and explore the potential impacts of a wall on the natural environment, but as the wilderness gives way to the more populated and heavily trafficked Lower Rio Grande Valley, they come face-to-face with the human side of the immigration debate and enter uncharted emotional waters.

For those looking to be inspired

Each of these films are sure to spark inspiration in their audiences, albeit in very different ways. Note: some of these films may be more difficult to watch than others.

“¡Boza!” *

Monday, April 29, 3:15 p.m.

Three young sub-Saharan African immigrants left home in their teens to embark on their years-long journey to Spain. Crossing the Sahara Desert by foot, spending months to years living in the forests of Morocco, and finally making the dangerous crossing to the Spanish mainland or territories by land or sea, these three distinct immigration stories have one thing in common: their incredible optimism in the face of inconceivable adversity.

“For Sama”

Saturday, April 27, 5:30 p.m.

A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her. Both an intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war.

“Faces of Genocide” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

Short Docs of Survival

Saturday, April 27, 11:00 a.m.

These seven true stories illustrate how we fight for what we value: a craft, a home, our heritage, or human life.

Short Inspirational Docs

Saturday, April 27, 1:30 p.m.

This program showcases short documentaries from all over the world that will interrogate, illuminate and inspire. Find your story through the lives of the people who’ve lived it all.

“Breaking Their Silence”

Saturday, April 27, 5:15 p.m.
Monday, April 29, 2:30 p.m.

One filmmaker’s journey to understand the poaching crisis through the lens of the women risking their lives to end it.

For the foodies and those who just love food

The Newport Beach Film Festival is also one of the premiere culinary events in the nation. There are nightly events featuring tastings from some of the top restaurants and culinary destinations from all across Orange County. On top of that, they also have a nice line-up of culinary-based films. Here are a few standouts:

“Funke” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“Funke”

Monday, April 29, 5:00 p.m.
Thursday, May 2, 5:45 p.m.

When Evan Funke, a prodigious chef, inexplicably walks away from his highly successful and critically acclaimed restaurant, his life and career are thrust into a dark vortex. Years later, Evan mounts his culinary comeback, eyeing the most competitive street in America as a stage for his restaurant ode to the dying art of handmade pasta.

“Uncrushable”

Sunday, April 28, 5:45 p.m.
Monday, April 29, 3:00 p.m.

Late in the evening on October 8, 2017, a series of wildfires ignited Northern California’s beloved wine country. Hear the story of the fires through the eyes of those most affected in the area. Victims who lost homes or businesses, first responders, chefs and winemakers share their harrowing accounts, as a fallen community begins to rebuild through the amazing help of its neighbors, chefs and friends.

“The Biggest Little Farm” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“The Biggest Little Farm”

Sunday, April 28, 4:45 p.m.

Evicted from their small Los Angeles apartment, ambitious dreamers John and Molly ditch their urban life and embark on a journey to develop a 200-acre farmland filled with diverse animals, crops and plants. However, their attempt to establish a utopia faces several complications, exposing John and Molly to valuable lessons about the deep complexities of nature as they realize they must understand these intricacies in order to survive.

“Virgin & Extra: The Land of Olive Oil”

Tuesday, April 30, 7:45 p.m.

Olive oil is not just a superfood; in the region of Jaen, it also represents a way of life. Follow along as we see the importance of its history, its people’s work and the extraordinary enterprise of a group of local businessmen seeking to produce one of the best olive oils in the world from Picual olives.

For music lovers

The festival brings in a wide range of music-based films, from documentaries to narrative films and music videos. Here are some unique choices:

“Pick It Up” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“Pick It Up! – Ska in the ‘90s” *

Friday, April 26, 8:30 p.m.

Chronicling the rise and fall of the third wave of ska music that hit America in the 1990s and became an underground sensation that is still thriving today. Featuring members of Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, Sublime, Less Than Jake, Save Ferris, Fishbone, The Specials and many more.

“The Pink Chateau”

Friday, April 26, 8:45 p.m.

A young woman follows a beautiful stranger into the countryside. What unfolds is a series of sensual and intimate tales, set to the music of In The Valley Below. This screening will also serve as In The Valley Below’s new album launch, with the band playing the soundtrack live in conjunction with the film.

“The Cavern Club” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“The Cavern Club: The Beat Goes On”

Monday, April 29, 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday, April 30, 8:00 p.m.

Liverpool’s world-famous Cavern Club has been host to numerous musical legends over the last 60 years, including the Beatles. This documentary chronicles the fascinating history of one of the most beloved clubs in the world, featuring interviews from previous club owners as well as bands who have played at this historic venue.

Music Videos

Thursday, May 2, 8:30 p.m.

This selection of 17 music videos all blend music and film in their own unique way.

For those who love tech

There are plenty of films at the festival that revolve around tech, from science-fiction to science-not-so-fiction. Here are a couple standout options:

“Human Nature”

Thursday, May 2, 8:00 p.m.

The biggest tech revolution of the 21st century isn’t digital, it’s biological. A breakthrough called CRISPR gives us unprecedented control over the basic building blocks of life. It opens the door to curing disease, reshaping the biosphere and designing our own children. This film is a provocative exploration of CRISPR’s far-reaching implications, through the eyes of the scientists who discovered it, the families it’s affecting and the genetic engineers who are testing its limits.

“Auggie”

Sunday, April 28, 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday, April 30, 5:30 p.m.

Forced into early retirement, Felix Greystone’s coworkers gift him a pair of augmented reality glasses as a farewell present. When he puts them on for the first time, he begins a friendship with a beautiful young woman named Auggie. Their friendship escalates toward intimacy, creating a blur between virtual and reality; exploring the nature of relationships and the angst of acceptance. Starring Richard Kind.

For those who support the arts

The Newport Beach Film Festival is a huge supporter of local art programs. To help celebrate this support, check out the collegiate and youth programs, which will present films from many local schools and young people.

Collegiate Showcases:

  • CSU, Long Beach – Saturday, April 27, 11:00 a.m.
  • OC School of the Arts – Saturday, April 27, 12:00 p.m.
  • UC Irvine – Saturday, April 27, 1:15 p.m.
  • Saddleback College – Saturday, April 27, 1:30 p.m.
  • Chapman University – Saturday, April 27, 3:00 p.m.
  • CSU, Fullerton – Sunday, April 28, 12:30 p.m.
  • Orange Coast College – Sunday, April 28, 1 p.m.

Youth Film Showcase

Sunday, April 28, 1:00 p.m.

Showcasing 14 films from students 18 and younger.

For the kids

The Newport Beach Film Festival is an event for all ages. Here are a few showings that are great to bring the kids to.

“Tarzan” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“Tarzan” – 20th Anniversary Screening

Saturday, April 27, 11:00 a.m.

A screening of the classic Disney film to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary. Come experience the animated magic once more on the big screen.

Shorts for Shorties

Saturday, April 27, 11:00 a.m.

Anything is possible in the wonderful world of childhood imagination, and these six films prove that.

Teens & Short Tweens Shorts

Saturday, April 27, 12:30 p.m.

Finding “you” can be a challenging process. Follow these five stories that show how choices can lead to self-discoveries.

The international screenings

The Newport Beach Film Festival brings in films from around the world. Here are the spotlight films and top picks from several participating countries.

Irish Films

With 20 shorts and 10 features, the festival has the largest selection of Irish films screening in North America. Here’s a top pick:

“Rosie” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

“Rosie”

Sunday, April 28, 7:00 p.m.

After their landlord sells their rented home, a young mother tries to protect her family from homelessness. Rosie and her partner, John Paul, strive to find somewhere to stay while shielding their young family from the reality of the situation around them – examining how even in times of crises, the love and strength of a family can endure.

Mexican Spotlight – “The Chambermaid”

Monday, April 29, 8:00 p.m.

Eve, a young chambermaid at a luxurious Mexico City hotel, confronts the monotony of long workdays with quiet examinations of forgotten belongings and budding friendships that nourish her newfound and determined dream for a better life.

“Monos” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

Colombian Spotlight – “Monos”

Monday, April 29, 8:30 p.m.

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers occupies a derelict ruin atop a remote mountain where they train themselves, watch over a “conscripted” milk cow, and hold hostage a kidnapped American engineer. But after an attack forces them to abandon their base, playtime is over.

Italian Spotlight – “Let Me Introduce You to Sofia”

Tuesday, April 30, 8:30 p.m.

Gabriele is a divorced dad who is completely focused on taking care of his 10-year-old daughter, Sofia. Until the day he meets Mara, an old friend of his, and falls in love with her. There is only one problem: Mara seems to hate children. Gabriele decides to hide the existence of Sofia, but not without consequences.

German Spotlight – “100 Things”

Tuesday, April 30, 8:00 p.m.

Best friends Paul and Toni challenge each other to give up their material possessions for 100 days. As the challenge heats up, they are forced to question everything from how long you can wear dirty underwear to free will. Enter a funny and warm-hearted look at what we really need.

“Day and Night” – Photo courtesy of the Newport Beach Film Festival

Japanese Spotlight – “Day and Night”

Wednesday, May 1, 7:45 p.m.

Koji Akashi’s father, a whistleblower for a large corporation, commits suicide, leaving his family in ruin. Kenichi Kitamura works at an orphanage and is willing to commit crimes in order to protect the children. After being approached by Kenichi, Koji considers taking revenge for his father.

Chinese Spotlight – “Baby”

Wednesday, May 1, 8:15 p.m.

At the age of 19, starting work as a cleaner in the local children’s hospital, Jiang Meng encounters a baby born with the same congenital defects she herself suffered from. Faced with a barrage of high risk operations, the father has decided to refuse treatment and take the baby home with him – condemning his daughter to a certain death. Jiang Meng will stop at nothing to rescue this newborn girl who mirrors so closely who she once was.

Australian Spotlight – “Top End Wedding”

Wednesday, May 1, 8:15 p.m.

Engaged and in love, Lauren and Ned have just 10 days to find Lauren’s mother who has gone AWOL somewhere in the Northern Territory, reunite her parents and pull off their dream wedding. As the couple travels through the wild beauty of Australia’s Northern Territory, they meet unforgettable characters, find fulfillment and Lauren learns why her mother had to leave to find home.

For film buffs and aficionados

For those that are true cinema fans, these are options for you:

“Love, Antosha”

Sunday, April 28, 7:45 p.m.
Monday, April 29, 5:45 p.m.

From a prolific career in film and television, Anton Yelchin left an indelible legacy as an actor. Using his journals and other writings, his photography, and interviews with those closest to him, this film explores his success and his struggles, and lets viewers get to know this extraordinary person the world was cheated from seeing grow old.

Film Seminar Series

The festival also puts on a series of seminars, featuring award-winning filmmakers, about various areas of filmmaking. The series takes place at the Newport Community Center from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, and Sunday, April 28. More information will be available on the festival’s website.

Don’t see anything you like here? Don’t worry. There are literally hundreds of other films to choose from. The Newport Beach Film Festival takes place all across Newport from April 25 – May 2. Check out more details and the full line-up, and buy your tickets at newportbeachfilmfest.com.