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Ethnic Branches of Newport Film Fest Stumble Out of Gate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jennifer Simons, manager of Garden Grove’s Four Star Cinema, was nervous Friday after selling only one ticket to the screening of “Mr. Zhao,” which launched the Asian-movie series of the Newport Beach International Film Festival.

But things soon picked up.

“It went a lot better than I was anticipating,” Simons said Monday, satisfied with the number of tickets sold during the festival’s first weekend. It also helped Simons reach another goal: bringing more Asians to her theater.

Festival planners had hoped to make it more convenient for Asians and Asian Americans to see the 11-day event’s Asian-made films by moving the screenings near to Westminster’s heavily Vietnamese Little Saigon.

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The fourth annual festival, which comprises roughly 100 independent films from around the world, runs through Sunday. Most are screening in Newport Beach.

Despite Four Star’s location, it draws a mostly white crowd of return visitors, said Simons, whose family has been doing more advertising since taking over the theater in February. The previous owner of seven years, she said, did little advertising.

About 185 tickets were sold to nine movies from Vietnam, India, Korea, the Philippines, China and Hong Kong at Four Star during the weekend, Simons said, and most patrons were Asian. Saturday’s average of 30 per screening compared favorably, she said, with 35 per screening for “Forces of Nature,” the top-grossing movie in the nation last weekend.

Patrons, she added, also were more “intellectual” than the families and retirees the theater typically draws. However, only one of about eight interviewed Friday lives near the theater.

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“I am very glad they’re showing Asian films in my community,” said Minh Hang Nguyen of Westminster, an eligibility officer for the Orange County Welfare Department. “It’s closer to my house.”

Those living outside the area didn’t mind the drive. Linda, an Anaheim Hills resident who didn’t want to give her last name, was Friday’s single ticket-holder for “Mr. Zhao,” made in China and Hong Kong.

“I really support independent films,” said the Chinese American banker, who had read about the festival in an English-language newspaper. “I wish there was better attendance.”

Andrew Le Hoang An, coordinator of the festival’s Asian Cinema Kaleidoscope component, called the Garden Grove screening location “an experiment” and said organizers are still trying to determine how best to serve the diverse audience the festival is targeting.

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Because Asian communities of Cambodians, Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans and others are scattered throughout the county, it is difficult to pick a site that’s convenient for all, he said.

An said the festival’s Asian component had been advertised in several local Asian media outlets, including daily newspapers and radio stations.

“We are still in the process of seeing what works for people,” An said, “but the people I talked to [at Four Star] definitely appreciated having the films closer to them.”

Planners also are considering screening all festival films at a single venue, An added, with the idea that all sorts of people enjoy all sorts of films.

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“It’s not like a Mandarin-language film [can be appreciated] only by a Mandarin speaker,” he said.

In fact, not all of Friday’s viewers enjoyed all of the night’s films. Some walked out of “Bombay Boys,” a collaboration between Indian and U.S. filmmakers about three expatriate twentysomething Indian men who spend three months in Bombay together.

“That was the most stupid movie I’ve ever seen,” said Navin Gandhi, a Huntington Beach doctor who heard about the festival from a friend.

Pramod Multani, a doctor from India, found out about the festival from a brochure he picked up at an Edwards theater in Brea. The Fullerton resident regularly sees Indian-made films in La Mirada and West Covina, he said, but left before the end of “Bombay Boys,” which he attended with his 16-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter and wife, Anju.

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The film, which neither Pramod nor Anju Multani found entertaining, included obscenity, violence and illicit drug use, none of which was mentioned in a description of the movie in the festival’s program.

“This,” Anju Multani said, “is not the India I want my children to see.”

An said future festival programs may denote films that are unsuitable for children.

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* The Newport Beach International Film Festival continues through Sunday at various locations. See today’s schedule on F3. Information: (949) 851-6555.


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