Newport Beach has long been associated with the film industry, from the movies filmed there such as ‘Beaches’ and ‘Jerry Maguire’ and in TV as well, using Newport Harbor as the departing harbor in the opening scene of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and of course ‘The O.C.’. Famous film residents of Newport Beach included such stars as John Wayne, James Cagney, Shirley Temple (herself the first ‘Miss Newport’), Nicholas Cage, Rock Hudson and Candace Bergen. From April 23 to April 30, Newport Beach continues its starring role in film by hosting the 16th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival. In a conversation with Gregg Schwenk, the Co-Founder of the Newport Beach Film Festival, we talked about why Newport Beach is holding this festival and why it’s so important to not only fans of film but also to people that currently work in the film industry.
Q: Tell me about the Newport Beach Film Festival…
The Newport Beach Film Festival is one of the largest festivals on the West Coast. We’re one of the fastest growing festivals on the West Coast and one of the largest festivals in Southern California. We screen over 400 films from 50 different countries, host 20 special events ranging from private yacht parties to an Opening Night of 3,000 people. We will have an award-winning seminar program. Special sections within the Festival include Action Sports, Art/Architecture/Design films, a large Short Film component along with a Collegiate Program, ones where we’re looking at other countries around the world as well as other special events and screenings.
Q: Why is the Newport Beach Film Festival as important to Industry people as it is to film fans?
I think, ‘Location, location, location’. Our proximity to Hollywood makes it exceptionally easy for film buyers, field agents and distributors to come down, watch a few films, have a very nice lunch, maybe even get a round of golf in, watch a few more films and then go to one of our amazing events and then be back home if need be. This has allowed us to grow exponentially the number of Industry participants that come down to Newport for a mini-getaway for two or three days to check out what is a world-class lineup of films.
One of the things I really want to stress that it’s critically important, I mentioned location and that really should have been proximity on that question, because location comes later during the whole process. The proximity to Hollywood gives us the advantage with the Industry, the sales agents and the film buyers and the distributors, but the location is what really makes the Newport Beach Film Festival really special. We’ve been ranked as the Number One Luxury Lifestyle Film Festival in the U.S. There’s no better backdrop to experience an amazing entertainment event than Newport Beach. When we look at the events that we hold and we look especially at our Opening Night, we feel that it gives us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on Newport and show the world why we love to live here and why this is such as special place. We screen at the Lido Theater, which is right on the water. It is a beautiful Art-Deco palace, 76 years old but really a state-of-the-art facility and an awesome place to screen a film.
Q: You’re doing documentaries and feature films. What do you think about what’s coming in for the Festival these days?
The Festival has seen an exponential growth in submissions. We went from about 2400 submissions to over 3,000 submissions in screened films for placement in the 400 slots that we have for the Festival. So we’re seeing a very strong growth in the submission of films. The programming team from the Newport Beach Film Festival attends most of the major film festivals around the world. We have people at Toronto, at Dubai, at Berlin, at Sundance and a number of other major festivals to find the very best films on the circuit today to bring to Southern California.
Q: You’re having a Music Video Showcase. Are they really art?
Well I think that what’s important to look at from a music video standpoint is that when they are done well, they are an especially well-choreographed short film, in that they will normally tell a complete story through both the medium of music and in film. I think it’s a very special form of art and something that we’re very happy to celebrate here at the Festival.
Q: One of the things that you are doing is having seminars. Is this a good way for film fans to meet professional Industry insiders?
Oh, most certainly! The seminars at the Newport Beach Film Festival are a real gift back to our community, in that many festivals will charge in between fifteen to twenty five dollars for a seminar and we give these back to the community for free. Anyone can come in, wait in line and come to see our seminars.They’re really a wonderful insider’s view of the mechanisms and machinations of filmmaking. Whether it be from screenwriting to directing to editing to cinematography, the seminars are a really wonderful way to understand the nuances that all the different departments go through. You can really understand what it takes to produce a film today.
Q: How can people best take advantage of all the Festival has to offer?
What I usually tell people is that it’s really a necessity to take a look at the website. Go to and look through the films, because with over 400 films that can be a little overwhelming. But it’s also one of those things where you can find something as you’re reading through the description of a short film or a documentary, you might think, “I don’t really want to see that, or maybe it doesn’t interest me”, but reading it, it’s really “Wow! That’s really an incredible film!”. The things I would really encourage people to look at, my own secret personal favorites aside from the seminars, is the Collegiate Program and that is really bringing in some of the best film students today to show their work to an audience. We’ve got kids coming in from UCLA, we’ve got a program with USC, UCI and programs that are also from Saddleback and Orange Coast College. You’re really seeing a wonderful cross-section of collegiate work from some of the yet to be discovered filmmakers. And the other side of that, we have incredible array of Spotlight and Special Events films. These are not only films that will have a strong festival buzz also will be celebrated with a major after-event. That’s one of the things about the Newport Beach Film Festival, you don’t have to be an industry insider to enjoy our parties. You can go see an amazing film on Friday night and then go to our after-party. Or maybe on Saturday night, come to see one of our centerpiece films and then go to our Gala Event at Room+Board in South Coast Village.
Q: What are some of the films that the fans might take note of at the Festival?
As far as some specific films, again looking at some of our Special Event Gala films, Slow West is a very strong revisionist Western starring Michael Fassbender. We also have A Little Chaos, which is Alan Rickman’s directorial debut and that is a wonderful period piece about the landscape architect who designed the gardens at Versailles. There’s a great film the same night called Set Fire to the Stars which is a very powerful piece about the poet Dylan Thomas with just very, very strong performances. Then you also have Divine Access, which is a film that has a number of local talent that will be appearing in the film.
Q: What are the films an Industry insider might want to pay attention to?
Things that are going to play well are Jackie & Ryan, that’s a very strong, crowd pleasing very accessible film; Me Earl and the Dying Girl, this is the West Coast premiere for that film which won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance; The Passion of Augustine, an extremely strong film, we’re the international premiere, it’s a Canadian film and the director will be flying in from Canada for that particular film. Another one that I think probably would think would really interest from an insider’s standpoint that has garnered a great deal of buzz already is Miss India America. On the other side of all that, a wonderful, wonderful documentary, The Last Man on the Moon, about Gene Cernan, who was the last man to set foot on the moon.
Q: Gregg, you mentioned the Gala, can you talk a little bit about it…
The post-party takes place in the center of Fashion Island. We’re having 3,000 people and we’re bringing in twenty of the top restaurants in Orange County to do their signature dishes. They’re bringing in what the feel is their best appetizer or their best dish and give everyone tastings from their menu. We’re having a hosted bar by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Stella Artois Beer and Remy-Cointreau. This year we’re excited to have a private performance by Cirque de Soleil. That’s one of the really great things about the Newport Beach Film Festival in that we integrate food, film and fashion. It’s our ability to relate all of our special events and we have something going on every night of the week in Newport Beach and the surrounding area. When you look at an Opening Night Gala there are very few film festivals in the world that can match what we can do here in Newport. It is cocktail attire—we try to keep things very Newport Beach here, it’s elegant without being stuffy.
Q: Gregg, any final thoughts?
I think that many times I’ll talk with people and they’ve heard of Tribeca, they’ve heard of Sundance. They hear about festivals that take place and they think that they’re only for people in the Industry. But one of the things I really try to impress upon people is how accessible and enjoyable the Newport Beach Film Festival is. True, we have a number of people in the film industry and on the business side that come and spend a number of days in Newport, but we have such a large component of people who are coming in from L.A. who want to get away for a weekend and they want to see a couple of films, they want to go shopping at Fashion Island, they’re going to do some standup paddle board in the bay and just really enjoy the lifestyle and the luxury that’s accessible and affordable here in Newport Beach during the Newport Beach Film Festival. I think that’s a really cool thing!
Newport Beach Film Festival
April 23-30, 2015
For info: www.newportbeachfilmfest.com