Port Theater to reopen for Newport Beach Film Festival

After a 14-year dark spell, the remodeled Port Theater will reopen during this year's Newport Beach Film Festival with free screenings and seminars.

The theater in Corona del Mar will officially welcome the public back on Saturday with a seminar series titled, "Vision and Craft: The art of filmmaking," from 1 to 5 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. is the screening of "Kingdom Come," a documentary by first-time director Daniel Gillies.

"We are very excited and extremely proud to partner with the Port Theater and offer a unique selection of films and seminars," said Gregg Schwenk, the festival's chief executive. "The public can enjoy both the festival and the theater."

The buzz surrounding the reopening of the East Coast Highway venue, which closed in 1998, could contribute to increased ticket sales, but festival organizers said they decided to provide all of the programming at the Port for free for the duration of the festival.

"We thought that this was an important opportunity to give back to community and we are hopeful that in the future, patrons and sponsors will underwrite these opportunities," Schwenk said.

The Orange County Film Society, which gave birth to the NBFF but remains its own entity, is interested in the possibility of using the theater for other screenings and events year-round, Schwenk said.

Few details are known, but the theater is reported to have undergone an interior remodel and have less, but more flexible, seating to accommodate events other than film screenings, according to Corona del Mar Today.

"The owner has done a tremendous job of restoring and reimagining the Port Theater," Schwenk said. "In a word, it's beautiful. It will be a true gift back to the community."

Port Theater owner Fariborz Maseeh, a Newport Beach resident, philanthropist and founder of the investment management firm Picoco LLC, has remained silent over the past several years about the restoration.

Interview requests left with his office were not returned this week.

In addition to the mystery around the Port Theater's new interior, others wonder how Maseeh will solve the building's past parking and traffic problems in that congested strip of Coast Highway.

"I think there will be challenges, but there are challenges created any time you have a new business opening up," said Bernie Svalstad, chairman of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District. "This site is a little unusual due to that the parking was grandfathered in because of the historical nature of the building to the city."

However, Svalstad said he is excited for the opening and expects the theater to attract visitors from surrounding communities.

"In Corona del Mar, one of the most-asked questions is 'What they are going to do?," Svalstad said. "That, and what it's like in there, have been the focus of a lot of interest."

Officials estimated that more than 50,000 people attended the festival last year, according to Daily Pilot archives.

With so many people, organizers chose to hang onto Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa as a venue. The festival expanded into Costa Mesa for the first time in 2011 to compensate for the loss of a venue while Island Cinema at Fashion Island was closed for a nearly year-long remodel.

Island Cinema is once again part of the festival lineup.

"We've become one of the larger film festivals in Southern California, and the demand by our audience is such that we have to look at all venue options," Schwenk said.

In years to come, the NBFF will also look at other small community theaters, including the Balboa Theater, which has experienced some restoration efforts over the years.

sarah.peters@latimes.com

Twitter: @speters01

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