Newport Beach Film Festival 2019: SoCal’s Center for Cinema Celebration Turns the Big 2-0 This Year

If the Newport Beach Film Festival could be described in a phrase, “Think globally, act locally” might be it.

Showcasing films from more than 50 countries, the festival draws moviemakers from all corners of the world while also highlighting the regional moviemaking community.

Heading into its 20th year, NBFF is expected to attract 55,000 visitors, making it the largest film festival in Southern California. About 120 feature films and 220 shorts will be screened over the course of a week.

“When you’ve got that much film,” notes Gregg Schwenk, director and CEO of the festival, “one of the great things is that you’re able to bring together a critical mass of unique voices and special perspectives.”

The program is divided into 11 categories including Documentaries, Narrative Features and Family Films. Unique to NBFF is the Action Sports Film series, which spotlights extreme sports—a nod to Newport’s surf culture. In addition to screenings, NBFF’s special events are popular. Parties are hosted in hotels minutes away from the shore. Some receptions are even aboard private yachts. This is the first year some receptions will be open to the public. The Opening Night Gala is the main attraction. Entertainment is provided by groups like Cirque du Soleil, while tastings are offered by top-tier SoCal restaurants.

NBFF’s recreational events are complemented by educational programs. Most screenings are followed by a Q&A with the moviemakers. The Seminar Series consists of interactive panels and moderated discussions with industry professionals. This includes 10 Cinematographers to Watch, a panel honoring up-and-coming DPs that NBFF co-hosts with Variety. The cherry on top? These events are free.

Another noteworthy aspect: the Community Partnerships Program, which reflects the festival’s regional ties. “We are always trying to make our films relevant to the regional film community in California,” Schwenk adds. “We felt the best way to do that would be to pair our films with organizations that are doing incredible things in the community.”

About 60 to 75 SoCal nonprofits will be linked with selected films. At screenings, representatives spread information about their cause. This year, Easterseals will be working with the disabled community to produce short films that will screen at the festival.

NBFF also partners with SoCal film schools such as Chapman, UCLA, and UCI to shine a spotlight on the next generation of creatives.

Highlights from this year’s schedule span from documentaries about local heroes to international narrative features. Part of Water pays tribute to a lifeguard who died in the line of duty and will premiere at the festival.

NBFF will host the West Coast premiere for Love, Antosha, director Garret Price’s portrait of late actor Anton Yelchin. Buzzy culinary films include The Biggest Little Farm, about two city dwellers-turned-aspiring ranchers and Funke, on a pasta chef seeking a comeback. In the Environmental category, keep an eye out for Sea of Shadows and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, the third in a trilogy by photographer Edward Burtynsky, Nicholas de Pencier, and Jennifer Baichwal. Featuring country stars Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and Jason Isbell, Bluebird celebrates the famed Nashville music café.

In the Narrative category, coming-of-age tale Go Back to China and Papi Chulo, John Butler’s dramedy about a friendship between a weatherman and a migrant laborer, are standouts. Columbian thriller Monos is one to watch from International Spotlight.

NBFF has been delighting audiences with its ever-expanding event lineup and dazzling venue for the past two decades—and this year is shaping up to be no exception. MM

Newport Beach Film Festival 2019 runs April 25-May 2, 2019. For more info, visit newportbeachfilmfest.com. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Spring 2019 issue.

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