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‘Imitation Game’ is a winner in Newport

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The marquee for the screening of “The Imitation Game” at the Lido Theater on Monday.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician and “father of the modern computer” who played a critical wartime role in breaking the ciphers of Nazi Germany at Bletchley Park, was a bit of an eccentric genius. He chained his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being stolen.

But Turing had a greater challenge before him than preventing petty theft. He and a number of other young, brilliant mathematicians were to address the challenge of breaking Hitler’s communications, based on Germany’s Enigma ciphering machine. The Nazis considered the machine secure, since they could not imagine a human brain able to unscramble the millions of mathematical variations.

It was Turing’s greatest achievement to create a mechanical device, known today as a computer, to crack the German’s coded messages within minutes. His triumph, though, came to an unfortunate end. Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, when such behavior was still criminalized in the United Kingdom. He committed suicide two years later.

It was a story that Hollywood producers believed should be told.

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Turing’s biopic, “The Imitation Game,” which opened in theaters in November and stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, has been nominated for five Golden Globe awards, including Best Picture. It also was included in the American Film Institute’s top 11 films of the year and nominated for three Screen Actors Guild awards.

Add the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Best Picture and Outstanding Ensemble Cast awards to the film’s accolades.

The festival invited members of the Orange County Film Society to watch a private screening of “The Imitation Game” at Lido Live Theater on Monday evening.

“It’s important to be supportive of such a unique film,” Gregg Schwenk, executive director of the festival, said to a full house.

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The Newport Beach Film Festival picked “The Imitation Game” for its 2014 awards after the team screened the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival.

After the society members finished watching the film, Schwenk took the stage.

“What did you think?” he asked the audience.

A round of applause answered his question.

“We think so too,” Schwenk said.

He welcomed four members of the film’s cast and crew to sit onstage and answer questions about the production, beginning with the conception of the film.

Ido Ostrowsky, one of the film’s producers, said he had read a newspaper article in 2009 about former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown making an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way [Turing] was treated.” Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon in 2013.

“Shamefully, we didn’t know of him,” Ostrowsky said.

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At the time, Ostrowsky and co-producer Nora Grossman worked in the television industry but were in between jobs. They said they knew they wanted to share this story.

“It was a passion project, a side project and it was a story we wanted to tell,” Grossman said.

The two collaborated with executive producer Graham Moore and went through four drafts before committing to the 44-day shoot. Ostrowsky said he and the team met with Cumberbatch at the studio and talked about the script.

“He responded to it, and immediately we could tell he was obsessed with Alan Turing and wanted his story out there,” Ostrowsky said.

The two visiting actors on Monday night included Alex Lawther, who played the young Turing, and Matthew Beard, who played one of the mathematicians in Turing’s unit.

Beard admitted he hadn’t known of Turing, or what happened to him after the war, before reading the script.

“It was a huge reason why were all so drawn to it, because we wanted to get this story into other people’s ears,” Beard said.

Ostrowsky said the film’s challenge was to compress a lifetime into a 114-minute movie. Moore played a pivotal role in finding and focusing on the critical moments of Turing’s life. Turing’s nieces met with Cumberbatch to describe their uncle’s personality. The cast and crew invited more than 30 of Turing’s relatives to a screening.

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“It was a great relief that they saw the film and liked it,” Grossman said.

Schwenk asked if the cast and crew had come across interesting anecdotes when learning about Turing. Lawther said he was talking to Cumberbatch and learned from school reports that Turing was described as messy, his buttons done the wrong way, and that he was a bit of a “scramble” in the classroom.

“It stuck in my mind endearingly that this genius mind was forming,” Lawther said. “We all bonded over Alan Turing and, on set, we were unified.”

“It created a unique feeling,” Beard added.

Schwenk announced the film had just received a nod from the Producers Guild Awards.

And the Newport Beach Film Festival, along with Screen International, Visit Newport Beach California and the Orange County Film Society, will host a pre-BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) private reception in London in February. Gary Sherwin, CEO of Newport Beach & Company, announced Monday evening that he and the festival will collaborate during the awards season on a campaign to inspire Londoners to visit Newport Beach.

Ostrowsky closed the discussion by talking about his experience working on the project for more than five years.

“In a nutshell, this has been overwhelming,” the producer said. “When the movie is out and this is the first time people are hearing about Alan Turing, we feel tremendously gratified.”


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