Newport Beach film fest: ‘Jewtopia,’ John Wayne and lots more

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“Jewtopia,” a stage show about the Jewish singles world, opened in a small theater in West Hollywood in 2003 and went on to become one of the longest-running comedies in off-Broadway history. Now “Jewtopia,” the movie, is set to make its world premiere at Thursday’s opening of the Newport Beach Film Festival.

It’s all quite a rush for Bryan Fogel, a former stand-up comic who created “Jewtopia” with his friend Sam Wolfson and directed the film version, whose ensemble cast includes Jennifer Love Hewitt, Rita Wilson, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jon Lovitz and Tom Arnold.

“The play is two guys on stage essentially setting each other up with girls, and the movie is the entire world of these characters and their families and their back stories,” Fogel said. “I like to think of it as ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ meets ‘Wedding Crashers.’ It’s crazier and raunchier than ‘Greek Wedding,’ but it’s that same universal theme of finding love.”


Fogel is one of many first-time filmmakers whose work will appear at the Newport Beach Film Festival, now in its 13th year. In all, 460 films from 50 countries will unspool at six Orange County theaters over seven days.

It’s the largest film slate to date for the festival, according to chief executive and co-founder Gregg Schwenk. The event is known for its strong lineup of action-sports films; this year, it also has robust selection of movies from the Pacific Rim and Latin America. “One of the unique aspects is the great breadth and depth of the festival,” Schwenk said. “We are always looking for films that we believe will resonate with a broad audience.”

Special events on tap include a youth showcase featuring filmmakers under 18, a Chuck Jones cartoon retrospective and animation seminar, and a screening of a restored version of the 1930 western “The Big Trail,” starring longtime Newport Beach resident John Wayne.

Other highlights include the world premieres of “Should’ve Been Romeo,” an ensemble comedy with Ed Asner, Carol Kane and Paul Ben-Victor; “Songs for Amy,” an Irish import about a lovesick musician trying to win his girlfriend back; and “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez,” a film starring Ernest Borgnine about one man’s heroic revolt against a lawless nursing home.

Additionally, the festival will host the West Coast premieres of “Swerve,” an Australian film about a drug-bust gone bad, and “Sunset Strip,” Hans Fjellestad’s comprehensive history of the famous boulevard.

Another film with local ties premiering at the festival is “Behind the Orange Curtain,” a documentary about prescription drug addiction among teenagers in Orange County. The May 2 premiere and a second screening sold out quickly, so a third screening was added, said director Brent Huff.

The film begins with the drug-related deaths of two local teenagers and explores how easy it is for teens to obtain – and get hooked on – prescription meds such as OxyContin, Oxymorphine and Opana in affluent south Orange County, which “basically looks like Pleasantville,” Huff said.

“I wanted to go in and just ask questions,” he said. “How did this happen? Where do they get the drugs? What’s the DEA doing about it? I asked tough questions and they were more than willing to talk about it. Not just the parents, but the kids.”

Huff expects the film’s premiere to trigger a strong emotional reaction from the crowd, which will include some of the parents and teens he interviewed on camera.

“It will be a gut punch,” he said.

On a lighter note, this year’s action-sports spotlight film, “Decade of Dominance,” chronicles athlete Jamie Mitchell’s attempt to capture his 10th win in the World Championship of Paddleboarding in Molokai, Hawaii.

The film’s director, Brent Deal, traveled to Mitchell’s home in Australia, then Hawaii in the weeks leading up to the race to show the preparation involved in crossing the rough 32-mile Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu.

“We thought it would be a great year to show not only what I was trying to achieve but what it takes to do a race of this stature,” said Mitchell, who will appear with Deal at Saturday’s premiere. “It’s not just turn up and paddle. There’s so much more to it.”

Deal’s first film, “H2indO,” will also debut at the festival. It profiles seven of the world’s best stand-up paddleboarders, two of whom hail from Orange County, as they take on the surf breaks of Indonesia.

Newport Beach is “the mecca for stand-up paddling,” Deal said. Although the filmmaker and his team considered submitting to other film festivals, they ultimately decided against it, he said. “We said, ‘No way, we’re going to be in O.C.’”

[For the record: 1:37 p.m. April 26: A previous version of this post described the play ‘Jewtopia’ as a two-man stage show. It centers on two male characters but other characters appear in the production.]


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