Theater closure could affect film festival

The Newport Beach Film Festival may have to move the bulk of its 2011 festival screenings out of the city because of the temporary closure of Edwards Island Cinemas at Fashion Island, a festival official said Tuesday.

Two Irvine theaters — Edwards University Town Center 6 and Edwards Westpark 8 — are being considered as possible alternatives to the Newport venue during the weeklong festival that begins April 28, said Gregg Schwenk, the festival's chief executive.

The Fashion Island cinema house with seven theaters was set to close Wednesday for an overhaul construction project. It is to open in time for the Christmas 2011 shopping season, officials at Irvine Co., the shopping center's owner, said in a news release.

The festival will continue to screen films at the nearby Edwards Big Newport 6 and Regency Lido Theatre, although Schwenk described the Fashion Island theater as the "true heart of the festival," because it has hosted about 95% of screenings in past years, he said.

Festival officials were notified by the Irvine Co. in November that the theater would be closing for renovations. The renovations — the first since the theater opened in 1989 — will include wider aisles, larger seats and a remodeling of the lobby to reflect Fashion Island's Italianate architecture, according to the release.

"Fashion Island has been a consistent supporter of the Newport Beach Film Festival," according to a prepared statement from company spokeswoman Erin Freeman. "…We understand the cinema renovation will mean the need to identify alternative screens in other locations. It is our understanding that reasonable alternative venues have been identified.

"We are working closely with the Film Festival to ensure that the 2011 event proceeds as expected," the statement continued.

The city of Newport Beach will continue giving an annual grant to support the festival, which was awarded in the amount of $100,000 during the summer, said city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan.

"We understand that this is a one-year unique circumstance," Finnigan said.

However, festival organizers are struggling to retool event plans that were already well underway, Schwenk said.

"Most of our supporters have felt very bad that the Irvine Co. didn't give us more notice and we're all hopeful that they will come forward in our time of need," Schwenk said.

Irvine Co. has invited the Film Festival to hold its Opening Night Gala at a location within Fashion Island and provide volunteer support, according to Freeman.

Although Schwenk would not say if the festival was at any immediate risk for 2011 or 2012, "This has become a pivotal community event in Orange County and it would be a devastating loss to the cultural landscape if we were not able to continue with the Newport Beach Film Festival," he said.

Festival organizers plan on returning wholly to Newport Beach in 2012, but it is not clear if any long-term plan exists for a worst-case scenario.

"Our immediate concern is 2011, beyond that, we're cautiously optimistic," Schwenk said.

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