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On the other side of the lens

The Newport Beach Film Festival, set for Thursday through April 11,

now enters its fourth year of leadership under executive director

Gregg Schwenk. The event has grown since he took it over in 2000 and

this year continues that trend.

Over a course of nine days, about 300 films will show -- more than

ever.

On Thursday, the festival’s director of shorts programming, Lance

Winkel, visited City Editor James Meier at the Daily Pilot office to

discuss this year’s festival and his experiences as a filmmaker at

last year’s festival and his new job running part of the show.

What does your job for film festival entail?

As director of shorts, it entails a lot of film watching to start

off with. It also involves going to a lot of other film festivals

during the year -- other festivals will get different people

submitting to them -- so to get an idea what’s out there, to keep a

pulse going of what the independent filmmaking market is like.

Then, as we get closer to the festival, just watching films, and

eventually deciding, out of how many great films, how many are

suitable for an audience. I’ve seen many great films, but I know an

audience wouldn’t get them. At those times, you have to make tough

decisions. “Is an audience going to get this? I can see where this is

going, but I’ve had five years of filmmaking experience so I can see

what they’re getting at.”

But once the films have been decided, putting them to programs is

really just a matter of orchestrating. Then, the last two months is

all filmmaker relations, making sure they know what time they need to

be there, making sure they’re comfortable.

I know, compared to every other festival I’ve been in, Newport

Beach has a fantastic sense of how to keep filmmakers involved. It

was just the most fun festival I went to. With “Within an Endless

Sky,” which was the film I made and submitted last year, I went to

about 15 other festivals in Japan, Barcelona, San Antonio and a lot

of places here in Southern California [Long Beach among them] and I

had more fun at this festival. The award at the end was like icing on

the cake; I wasn’t expecting it.

But while I was here, I just constantly found great films, little

treasures and then had great after parties.

Tell me a little about your film.

It was a five-minute short that took 2 1/2 years to make. It was

the first short computer-animated piece made in a program called

Maya, which if you watched the Oscars, Alias/Wavefront, who makes

Maya, got an award just for the software because it’s changed the

industry so much. I went through four story revisions. It’s what I

teach my students, how to focus on story. If you’re not going to

touch the audience, it doesn’t matter what effects you use, what

medium you use. So it took me 2 1/2 years, but I think it was worth

it.

Are you working on anything now?

I am writing now, but I’ve need a year break just to decompress.

There’s a business side to film that a lot of filmmakers forget about

it. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a name or reputation behind

you that can propel it, you really have to focus on getting it to the

right places and right hands at the right time.

So along with the festival and teaching, it’s been a lot just

making sure the film’s getting seen by the right people, to try to

keep it having a life expectancy and have it move on.

For right now, I’m just working on the writing and making sure

it’s a story I want to say.

What can we expect at this year’s film festival?

Three hundred films. That’s huge. Last year, we had 120 shorts.

This year, we’re up to 170. It’s incredible. I believe last year was

up 30%, too. Features is up to about 120. So many films, great films,

Oscar-nominated films, fantastic films that have won awards at

numerous festivals, like Sundance.

Close to my heart, I think we have about 30 animated films this

year. In fact, we have “Castle in the Sky,” which is one of the

classic films of Hayao Miyazaki. His film “Spirited Away” just won

the Academy Award [for best animated film]. It’s going to be the

first time it’s released on the West Coast on 35-millimeter with an

expanded soundtrack and Mark Hamill and other big name voice talent

are added to it. That’s beautiful because it’s great for the

families.

A great Romanian film I saw at the Palm Springs International Film

Festival originally, “Filantropica,” is a very interesting look at

politics, philanthropy and society. It’s humorous, wonderful,

romantic....

There’s a French film called “Sweat” that’s really gritty, but so

well shot. An action movie. It’s got trucks driving through jeeps.

What will be different at this year’s festival?

Quantity of films, quality of films. I think in terms of events

and presentation, we are so far ahead of where we’ve been any other

year. A month ago, we were where we normally would be today, but just

the fact that we’ve had more time to develop events and get things

planned out really well. That’s been really ahead of the game.

We’ve got great sponsors this year. VW came on. Absolut as always.

Sponsorship has been nice to keep the progress moving.

Gregg [Schwenk], at our first meeting, sat us down and said the

modus operandi this year is to continue the process, to build

momentum as we go. In three years, we’ve gone from something dying to

something that’s suddenly -- we’re kind of the West Coast almost. We

have a great location, a community that comes out in the Cinema Guild

and embraces this film festival.

And Orange County didn’t have a film festival. L.A. has a lot of

film festivals, but I don’t see the turnout and the people constantly

asking five months ahead of time, “What’s happening at the festival

this year?” There’s a real interest on what’s happening in their

background.

What are some of the festival’s longer term goals?

I really think we want to become one of the preeminent film

festivals. We have the community to support us. We have a very good

presence on the Web and it’s growing internationally. People know

about the film festival and, in turn, know about Newport Beach and

Orange County and that brings a lot of focus on this area not only as

a cultural center but also as a great place for someone to debut

their film or bring business.

So that’s one of the long-term goals, to use this to springboard

the community around the festival.

My goal as a programmer is to bring the best films to the film

festival. We had twice as many entries this year as last year. We had

700 just in shorts. I think, overall, just to keep building on we

have here ....

We see that a film festival isn’t just a means for a filmmaker to

show film to an audience.... These people spend years of their lives,

sell their houses, take out second mortgages just to bring these

ideas to people ....

There were hundreds of great films, but we just didn’t have the

screening time. If we had 10 more theaters, we’d probably be able to

fit them all in.


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