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
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
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
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,
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
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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