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People behind films are stars in their own right

People behind films are stars in their own right
A scene from “Drift.”
(Daily Pilot)

Doug Penikas received his acceptance to the Newport Beach Film Festival in the most unceremonious of ways — an email that landed in his junk folder.

“I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought it was a hoax. Especially when I couldn’t tell anyone till April 1st we were accepted.”


Penikas’ first-time venture, “Blood Type: Unknown,” revolves around college student Caitlyn Rose Landale and her love affair with writing, and her popular but secretive classmate Adam Godfrey, who can avoid intoxication despite any number of shots.

Oh, and he lists his blood group as “unknown” on medical questionnaires.


Penikas, the movie’s 25-year-old writer, director, editor and executive producer, who also plays Godfrey, says he writes nonstop because his mind constantly spins tales “based on randomness or conversations with people.”

The Anaheim Hills resident recalls an early penchant for films, which evolved into a full-blown obsession during his youth.

“It’s a silly reason, but everyone on the big or small screen seemed to be having a lot of fun, and I just wanted to join in the fun,” he said. “It has always fascinated me how you can sit for hours in front of the television or movie theater screen and be transported to those fantastic worlds.”

When he learned about the 14th annual film festival, Penikas decided to toss his hat into the ring. The movie was shot in 19 days on a micro-budget in Mission Viejo, Yorba Linda, Orange and his hometown.


“It was a complete shot in the dark,” he said. “I had no expectations whatsoever.”

Expected or not, “Blood Type: Unknown,” a 95-minute feature film, is days away from its world premiere.


A heady time for Newport


South Korea’s biggest heartthrobs, action star Jean Claude Van Damme and even rapper 50 Cent have roles in some of the movies that will shown at six theaters in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa between April 25 and May 2. Social commentary will be readily available too.

The festival’s reviewers and programmers reviewed as many as 2,700 movies, from every category imaginable, before whittling them down to the best 380. Many of these will celebrate regional, national or international debuts.

Action sports, features and family and youth films make up this year’s centerpieces, along with Pacific Rim, Latino and European showcases. The festival’s interactive segments, which are subject to change until the last day, include seminars and question-and-answer sessions with directors, producers, cast or crew members after screenings.

The lineup also features a look at rarities from the Disney vault and a celebration of director Richard Bare’s 100th birthday.

The festivities kick off Thursday with “Broadway Idiot,” a documentary starring members of punk rock band Green Day, who will be in the audience, while the red carpet will be attended by other surprise guests, organizers said. “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks will perform at the opening gala, and Via Lido Plaza and Equinox Irvine will host parties Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Gary Sherwin, the president and chief executive of the marketing bureau Newport Beach & Company, said that while the annual Christmas Boat Parade is the city’s biggest tourist draw in terms of numbers, the film festival does more than any other event to spread Newport’s reputation.

“The way we look at it, beyond any sort of economic impact, it’s clearly one of the leading definers of the Newport Beach brand, mainly because it gives us such positive reach externally in terms of telling a story,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of ads placed in L.A., which is a huge market for us in both print and broadcast.

“It helps tell the story of this aspirational lifestyle we have down here. It gives us glamour. It gives us a patina on the city that’s probably not replicated elsewhere.”


Filmmaking for a cause

Newport Beach resident and mother of three Catherine Jayasuriya, just back from the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, is looking forward to the unveiling of her film, “Dusty’s Trail: Summit of Borneo,” on April 26.

At the core of this labor of love is her son, Dusty Brandom, 20, who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at age 6. In the past 14 years, the Corona del Mar High School graduate, now confined to an electric wheelchair, has lost the ability to brush his teeth, lift a glass and even give hugs.

Jayasuriya founded Coalition Duchenne to contribute to finding a cure for this “silent disease.” For two years, she has organized a two-day hike called Expedition Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo, to which she traces her roots. She filmed the annual endeavor last August, flanked by a camera crew and 64 climbers — some of whose family members are afflicted with Duchenne and others of whom, despite not knowing Brandom personally, chose to support him.

“Mt. Kinabalu is a mountain I had always wanted to climb with my kids, so when Dusty was diagnosed with Duchenne, I knew I would not be able to do that,” she said. “So [I] decided to climb for him and others in a quest to raise global awareness.”

Having been selected for the Newport Beach Film Festival, she hopes the inspirational 65-minute documentary, which also showcases conversations with doctors and experts, will spark conversations about Duchenne and help fund initiatives to combat its cardiac and pulmonary effects.

Brandom, who traveled to Borneo in 2011 to send off and greet the climbers, was unable to make this year’s grueling trip and instead took to Skype to keep in touch with participants.

“When I see pictures of when I could walk, I don’t really think about it as being different; I just think of how much fun I was having at the time,” he said. “I don’t see it as something I miss or wish I could do, because I cannot change that, so it’s something I don’t focus on. I’m really happy with my life right now.”