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Newport Beach Film Festival Not Ready for Its Final Scene

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Newport Beach Film Festival, which was down for the count last fall, is poised to stage a Rocky-like comeback next month.

On tap: film tributes, filmmaker receptions, industry seminars and a sampling of films from the Sundance, Toronto and Palm Springs festivals.

Programmers visited those recent festivals, where they introduced themselves to movie makers and lobbied for films.

“We actively pursued films,” said Robert Cano, one of the festival’s seven programmers.

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The Newport Beach Film Festival received a dozen submissions from Sundance alone, half a dozen of which have been selected for screening.

Organizers, who rallied to keep the previously named Newport Beach International Film Festival alive after founder Jeffrey S. Conner filed for bankruptcy in September following a four-year run, have finalized plans for the eight-day event.

The festival begins March 30 at Edwards Newport Cinemas--"Big Newport"--with a Hollywood classic, the world premiere of a remastered print marking the 50th anniversary of director Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard.”

In keeping with their vision of having the festival centrally located, screenings will be held at the nearby Edwards Island Cinemas and the Orange County Museum of Art.

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The lineup:

* A Salute to British Film, with a screening of director David Lean’s 1946 classic “Great Expectations” (invited guests from the film include producer Ronald Neame, Oscar-winning cinematographer Guy Green, and actress Jean Simmons).

* A tribute to “Sweet Smell of Success,” director Alexander Mackendrick’s searing 1957 drama about a ruthless New York newspaper columnist played by Burt Lancaster. (Among the invited guests: co-star Tony Curtis, actor Lawrence Dobkin, actor Martin Milner and composer Elmer Bernstein).

Both film tributes will include receptions before the screenings.

Rounding out the festival are nine industry seminars to be held over two days and screenings of 45 features and about 80 shorts, many of them recent festival award winners and Academy Award nominees.

“It’s an outstanding lineup--every film’s a winner,” said Gregg Schwenk, the festival’s executive director.

Cano said feature and short-film submissions came from around the world.

“It was very inspiring,” he said. “There are a lot of people outside the studio system who are making some very strong and wonderful pictures.”

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Among the selections from the Sundance Festival:

* “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” which explores apartheid in South Africa and won the Grand Jury award at Sundance for best documentary.

* “Americanos: Latino Life in the United States,” a documentary winner for best cinematography.

* “The Wildest Show in the South,” a documentary short about an annual rodeo for inmates of a Southern prison. It didn’t win any awards at Sundance but has been nominated for an Academy Award.

* “The Old Man and the Sea,” an Oscar-nominated animated short based on the Ernest Hemingway novel.

Cano said many of the directors will attend the screenings of their films. There also will be receptions with various filmmakers, including directors Susan Todd and Andrew Young, whose “Americanos” will have its West Coast premiere at the festival.

The art museum setting for the short-film screenings will include a “filmmakers’ lounge” off the foyer where the public can chat with filmmakers.

Programmer Scott Forrest said that in addition to the short films selected for the festival from submissions, he has added titles from other festivals, including the Hollywood Shorts Film Festival. Each represented festival will have its own program.

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“You’re going to see about an hour and a half of the greatest shorts that they’ve got,” said Forrest, “and then you’re going to have a great question and answer [session] with the filmmakers and the head of the festival. So instead of just the Newport selection, you’re getting a bunch of other great festivals under one roof.”

The Collaborative Art of Filmmaking, a two-day seminar series, will include segments on directing, digital filmmakers, screenwriting and other topics.

The seminars, which are free, will be held in the Newport Beach Public Library at Newport Center.

Among the scheduled guests are Jeannot Szwarc, director of “Somewhere in Time,” a 1980 film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Szwarc, who now directs episodes of “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice,” will be accompanied by “Somewhere in Time” cinematographer Isidore Mankovsky.

“It’s an exciting lineup,” said programmer Arnold Kunert. “We’re trying to introduce the public to a variety of talented people from both the past and present. We’re also covering the future of filmmaking--digital and the new media--so we’re really touching on all areas of filmmaking.”

The festival is seen as an economic boon for Newport Beach. In December, the City Council voted unanimously to provide $7,000 in public funds for start-up costs.

Festival spokesman Todd Quartararo said a Jan. 1 deadline to raise at least 25% of the event’s estimated $100,000 budget was met, but further details of how much has been raised won’t be released until later this week.

Forrest, a board member who has been involved with the festival the past four years, said the bankruptcy last fall was something of a blessing.

“I love being on the board and seeing the genesis of this brand new force that’s hatching here,” he said. “With the reformation of this group and the strength of having the city involved and Edwards [Cinemas] and the sponsors, it is really going to be something.”

Festival tickets go on sale March 15 through https://www.tickets.com. Contest entry forms are available on the festival Web site, https://www.newportbeachfilmfest.com. More information is available by calling (949) 253-2880.


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