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Newport Beach Film Festival will run in August, opening with documentary about surf icon Bruce Brown

Movie fans wait to get into the opening night gala of the Newport Beach Film Festival at the Fashion Island Courtyard in Newport Beach on Thursday, April 25, 2019. This year will be different with precautions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The show must go on – and it will in Newport Beach.

The Newport Beach Film Festival, typically held each April, will happen Aug. 6-20, organizers announced on Tuesday. It is one of the first large festivals to announce its return after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be some changes this year to adapt to social distancing, sanitation and safety rules.

Gregg Schwenk, CEO and co-founder of the film festival, said there will be nearly 300 films from 50 different countries showcased, though the lineup won’t be revealed until mid-July. The festival is celebrating its 21st year.

“We have very tempered expectations as far as attendance, we’re just happy to be able to share our highly acclaimed lineup of films with our audience,” he said. “We’re just proud to be able to attempt an event.”

Instead of hosting showings at various theaters throughout the city, all the films will be shown at THE LOT – Fashion Island. It will run for two weeks to accommodate all of its planned screenings.

Other safeguards will include teaming up with UCI Health and making sure social distancing guidelines are followed. Every festival attendee will receive no contact temperature checks, sanitizing stations will be placed throughout THE LOT, theaters will be thoroughly sanitized after each screening and food will be served in single-use containers.

Schwenk said he hopes that by early August, procedures and protocols will be elevated and streamlined and people will be more open to going to theaters and small group events.

“We are focused 100 percent on safety, making sure this is a safe and enjoyable experience for our staff, patrons and filmmakers,” he said.

While filmmakers have adapted to showing their work digitally, there’s nothing like the communal experience of a theater “the way we’re supposed to see the films,” Schwenk said.

It’s been a challenging year, with the festival devastated by the pandemic, he said. Most of the staff was furloughed and it is now just a two-person operation. He said he’s had an outpouring of community support and hopes “others will come out and support our effort.”

Gary Sherwin, president and CEO of Newport Beach & Company, the city’s tourism bureau, said they are “elated” the Newport Beach Film Festival is rescheduling and returning to “help bring the spotlight back to Newport Beach.”

“The film festival has always been an essential part of our visitor and social fabric,” Sherwin said. “As we begin our journey to recovery as a city, we are thrilled that the festival will give our visitors another high profile, safe and enjoyable reason to spend the summer with us.”

The festival will open with the world premiere of “A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown Story” on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in all seven cinemas at THE LOT – Fashion Island, located at 401 Newport Center Drive.

Schwenk said there’s no better way to celebrate “the very best of Southern California,” noting a decades-long relationship with the Brown family.

The film showcases Brown, a filmmaker known for “The Endless Summer,” which inspired a generation of adventure seekers who wanted to chase waves or travel the world to different cultures. The film followed two surfers, including Huntington Beach’s Robert August, around the globe.

“A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown Story” was created by his son, Dana, also an acclaimed filmmaker.

Bruce Brown grew up in Long Beach and started his film career in the sleepy surf town of Dana Point. He lived out his later years in Santa Barbara and died at age 80 in 2017. 

Though his most widely recognized work, “The Endless Summer” wasn’t Brown’s first stint behind a camera. His first film, “Slippery When Wet,” was released in 1958, and was followed by “Surf Crazy,”  “Barefoot Adventures” and other movies that were showcased in high school auditoriums up and down the coast, Brown narrating live in front of the salty, sandy crowd.

“The Endless Summer” came later, in the ’60s, when friend Dick Metz came back from traveling the world and told him he should make a film following the sun, and surf, around the globe, helping him plot his route.

Brown also had a big impact on the motorcycle culture with his film “On Any Sunday,” a 1971 documentary featuring Steve McQueen that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972.

The documentary being screened at the film festival is a tribute to his father, who started the action-sports film genre, Dana Brown said in the announcement.

“He broke the mold; he broke the rules; he broke open the film category,” Brown said. “There will never be another one like him.

“We could not think of a better fit for our world premiere then the Newport Beach Film Festival, which places such a strong focus on action sports programming and continually acknowledges dad’s legacy in the Southern California community,” Brown said.

Passes and tickets for film screenings and special events go on sale in mid July. More information:

Source: Orange County Register

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