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Newport prepares for namesake film festival

Former college and NFL coach Mike White was head coach during Cal Berkeley’s Pac-8 co-championship in 1975, a team that was led by Joe Roth, who is the subject of a new documentary to be shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

However long other ticket buyers stand in line to see “Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story,” Mike White has waited longer.

Nearly four decades, in fact.

White, the former football coach at UC Berkeley, has hoped to see a film about the story of Roth, the promising quarterback who played two seasons on the university’s team, since shortly after Roth’s 1977 death at age 21 of melanoma. For years, White heard rumblings about proposed scripts, but no project ever came to fruition.

Then, five years ago, a pair of Berkeley alums who attended the school after Roth’s time there got to work on a documentary. “Don’t Quit” combines archival footage of the quarterback’s playing days with reminiscences from family members and former teammates, some of whom recall the shock they felt upon learning that Roth had excelled on the field while battling a terminal illness.


“Don’t Quit” will have its world premiere April 27 at the Regency Lido Theatre — meaning that White, who lives on Balboa Island and appears throughout the film, won’t have to make a long journey to see it.

“I’m sort of overwhelmed by the fact that we’re finally, finally having a chance to show this on the screen, and, ironically, here where I live,” he said.


‘Under the Influence’


The 15th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, set to run April 24 to May 1 this year, brings together films and filmmakers from around the world. For some, though, it’s an opportunity to see their region on the big screen. In addition to White, the 2014 offerings will spotlight local filmmakers, athletes and more.

Tickets went on sale Tuesday for the festival, which will take place at six venues around Newport Beach, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa — the Lido, Edwards Big Newport 6, Island Cinema 7, Sage Hill School, the Triangle Square Cinemas and the Regency South Coast Village.

In keeping with this year’s theme, “15 Years Under the Influence,” organizers released a trailer dubbed “Bedtime Story” earlier this week. The video features projectionist David Theune, who responds to his daughter’s request for a straightforward bedtime story by tapping into characters and plots from “Fargo,” “Her,” “Memento” and “Pulp Fiction.”

The above-named films were Oscar nominees and winners, and a few of the selections at this year’s festival may also win such honors. (“Crash,” the 2005 Best Picture winner, had its U.S. premiere in Newport Beach.) This year will kick off with “Lovesick,” a comedy about a man whose mental condition thwarts his attempts at romance starring Matt LeBlanc.

The coming week will bring programs by student filmmakers from local campuses, a visit from 10 cinematographers hailed as promising by Variety magazine, a 50th anniversary showing of Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” a “Shorts for Shorties” youth filmmakers showcase and a tribute to IMAX studio MacGillivray Freeman Films, plus features that range from drama to comedy to documentary to action sports.

Among the more well-known names on the program are Jason Priestley, who directed the road movie “Cas & Dylan” with Richard Dreyfuss; Oscar nominees Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson and Emily Watson, who appear in the slavery drama “Belle”; and Jeremy Renner, Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, whose “The Immigrant” tackles prostitution in Manhattan.

Festival co-founder Gregg Schwenk said he has watched the event grow steadily in size and influence over the past 15 years.

“We’ve gotten more calls this year from film buyers and from sales agents looking to come out to the festival than ever before,” he said.



From Nepal to Newport

When Jaime Saul, a Newport Beach resident and executive producer of “Untouchable: Children of God,” would discuss the documentary with her friends, family and colleagues, they wanted to know where they could see it.

It is thrilling, she said, to know that they are weeks away from seeing the finished product “in their backyard.”

The 70-minute film illuminates the issue of sex trafficking among young Nepalese women belonging to the poorest or “untouchable” communities. They are enslaved and violated in Indian brothels. In a corner of the world where poverty is rampant, girls are expendable and parents are likely to pawn off their daughters in return for money with which they can feed other family members. The world premiere of “Untouchable: Children of God” is scheduled for April 30 at the Triangle.

Producer-director Grant Knisely and the rest of the crew have spotlighted two women who were rescued from a life of prostitution — they were the only ones who agreed to be on film, according to Saul. The movie also attempts to educate viewers about human trafficking and features activists and directors of organizations working on behalf of women’s rights.

“The caste system, even though it was officially abolished in 1965, continues to marginalize an entire population of people and keeps them impoverished,” Saul remarked. “In villages in Nepal, people are starving to death and there is no upward mobility, no education, no way to get out. The understanding is that you were born into your fate — do better next time.”

Shaken by the social injustice, Saul decided to follow in the footsteps of charitable parents. Her father, Rich, who played for the Los Angeles Rams for 12 years, and mother, Eileen, regularly used their resources to support initiatives including Childhelp USA, a nonprofit that combats child abuse, she recalled.


Having decided to back “Untouchable: Children of God,” Saul contacted others in her Orange County network, triggering a wellspring of support for the film. She described feeling humbled and grateful for the number of community members who opened their wallets to combat a problem that may seem very far away.

“My hope is that we can connect people in the United States to this issue abroad and to bridge that gap of the ‘other,’ that it is someone else’s problem and someone else’s issue,” Saul said. “Another piece is to get the film into India and compel high-caste Hindu citizens to action. These girls could easily be their sisters, their nieces, their cousins.”