Film has a way of bringing people together to learn, be entertained and for just a short time, escape reality.
“Film has always been a uniting force in our society. Since its early beginnings, film and movies have brought people together,” said Gregg Schwenk, CEO and co-founder of the Newport Beach Film Festival set to kick off on Thursday, Oct. 21, and run through Oct. 28.
Like many festivals that had to hit pause on big gatherings last year, the Newport Beach Film Festival is still struggling to recoup losses from the pandemic. Last year, the festival had just a small rooftop showing with 95% of its programming shown virtually, Schwenk said.
“I don’t want to be in the mini Netflix business,” Schwenk said of films he feels are meant to be seen on the big screen and not at home. “Last year was devastating for the festival. We lost 90% of revenue and 80% of staff.
“We’ve really taken the last year-and-a-half slowly to rebuild,” he said, “and we’re really trying our best to put on an amazing show.”
Now in its 22nd year, the festival is back big time this year with 300 movies from 50 different countries that will be showcased during eight nights.
“We feel the Newport Beach Film Festival, given its breath and it’s diverse offerings, really helps to shine the spotlight on unique storytellers and people that make up Southern California,” Schwenk said – some 60,000 audience members are expected.
The opening night film, “Never Catch Pigeons: And 11 More Hard Lessons From Mr. Paul Van Doren,” is based on the life of the Vans co-founder who helped create the Costa Mesa-based action-sports brand.
“It’s insightful, funny, very tender,” Schwenk said. “And it’s very much a story about an individual who reshaped the apparel landscape of not only Southern California, but the globe.”
Van Doren’s son, Steve, who has worked for the brand since its start in a small Anaheim factory, said throughout the two years the film was being made, he would show snippets to his father, who died in May.
“He would just smile,” Steve Van Doren said. “He had no critiques.”
The filmmakers traveled back to Van Doren’s hometown in Boston where it all started, including the old factory where Paul Van Doren worked with his brother, James, before relocating to Southern California a year later in 1966 and starting their own company with other investors called the Van Doren Rubber Company, today known as Vans.
“The movie is sensational,” said Steve Van Doren, adding that director Doug Pray revolved the story around his father’s 12 life lessons.
It’s the story of a man who didn’t pass the ninth grade, but who found that “America is the land of dreams,” Steve Van Doren said. “His legacy is now going to be in film, and how Vans got started and what we had to go through for 55 years. Lots of great lessons and miracles and just a great, fun story.”
Steve Van Doren – dubbed the Ambassador of Fun for the brand – is also excited to host an event for the first time in more than 18 months.
The after-party will include a 32-foot vert ramp Tony Hawk and others will be showing their skate skills on, as well as a stage from the Warped Tour where legendary skater Steve Caballero’s band will be playing, Van Doren said.
The life of another Southern California action-sports icon, Dick Metz, will also be shown on the big screen with the premiere of “The Birth of the Endless Summer: Discovery of Cape St. Francis,” which will be shown on Oct. 26 at the New Port Theatre and Oct. 28 at The Lot Fashion Island.
The 86-minute movie directed by Richard Yelland tells of how Metz stumbled upon the surf break in Africa during a three-year hitchhiking adventure, then came back to tell friend and filmmaker Bruce Brown about the discovery. It became famous a few years later in the cult-classic film “The Endless Summer.”
The film not only relives the discovery, but Metz’ role in modern-day surfing and his influence in introducing and expanding the sport in Africa. Appearances include long-time friend Hobie Alter, “The Endless Summer” star Robert August and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.
The festival’s films are being shown at The Lot, The Port, Big Newport, The Triangle and South Coast Village.
Among them are the “largest collection of what we believe are award-contention films,” Schwenk said.
His top picks for films creating award buzz: “BELFAST,” “C’mon C’mon,” “The Lost Daughter,” “Mothering Sunday,” “The Hand of God,” “Passing,” :Spencer,” “One Second,” “The Power of the Dog,” “The Humans” and “Shelter.”
“One of the things we’ve realized about the Newport Beach Film Festival, we have a very large section of our audience that are Guild or Academy members,” he said. “All of those audience members are so hungry to see films that are going to be in contention for major awards.”
There’s also an “International Spotlight” showing films from various cultures around the globe, including Ireland, Australia, Vietnam and beyond.
“Songs of Little Saigon” showcases musical talent among Vietnamese Americans whose “hope and resilience propelled the rebuilding of their lives in Southern California after fleeing war-torn Vietnam,” the movie description reads. “These refugees have gone on to become musically active leaders and role models in the Vietnamese community where they now reside.”
The closing night film is the West Coast premiere of “War on the Diamond,” directed by Andy Billman, a story that delves into Major Baseball League rivalries – including one of the biggest of them all, a 100-year feud spawn from one pitch that killed an opposing batter.
“A deep and long-lasting rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians began with that fatal pitch in 1920,” the description reads, telling of how Cleveland star shortstop Ray Chapman was “beaned” by Yankee pitcher Carl Mays. “That deadly pitch launched the Indians to their first ever World Series win and into a seemingly endless rivalry with the Yankees.”
The closing-night film will show at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 at The New Port Theater.
In addition to the films, there will be after parties, filmmaker Q&As and other special events. More info or for tickets: NewportBeachFilmFest.com.
Source: Orange County Register