Indie, studio films at Newport Beach fest

Over 360 movies to unspool

Orange County’s Newport Beach Film Festival may be only a relatively short limo ride away from Hollywood but far enough that a visit to the 9-year-old fest feels like a vacation.

Already a solid hit with well-heeled locals (more than 41,500 tickets were sold in 2007), the festival made its mark with the 2005 premiere of “Crash.”

“How many festivals have had opening night go on to win best picture?” asks festival founding sponsor and sports agent Leigh Steinberg.

The fest programs both indie and studio fare, striving to present the best of classic and contempo filmmaking to its sophisticated auds, says fest exec director Gregg Schwenk.

With more than 360 films, the fest offers 160 feature narratives, docs, shorts, children’s fare and an action sports sidebar plus international film showcases and an annual salute to O.C. favorite son John Wayne. (A new print of 1948’s “Red River” will screen at the fest.)

Universities, from USC to Chapman and Orange Coast College, bring student films to screen in a professional setting.

While the similarity to Cannes is apparent (yacht parties, the beach, the moneyed setting), the fest is still reaching for that prized A-list Hollywood synergy that’s taken other fests, like Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, decades to achieve.

Many Newport selections launched at other fests — opening-nighter “Sherman’s Way” was an audience award prizewinner at San Jose’s Cinequest, while others, like “Good Dick” and Nanette Burstein’s “American Teen,” were culled from Sundance — but the fest, and its numerous after-parties and galas, is a major event on the O.C.’s cultural calendar.

“As Newport Beach strives to have its own artistic identity, the festival provides a critical point of entry to artistic filmmaker voices from around the world,” producer-helmer McG (Newport Beach native and UC Irvine grad) comments from New Mexico where he’s in pre-production for “Terminator 4.”

Among the countries spotlighted this year: Sweden, Germany and Ireland.

Below-the-line players participate in the popular free weekend seminars. At the Cine Forum, expect cinematographers Daniel Pearl and Michael Goi. Other program standouts include a look at Disney animation with Roy E. Disney and a night of classic Disney tunes with songwriter and Academy Award winner Richard Sherman.

Saturday night’s showcase film, the world premiere of “Lie to Me,” boasts a local connection. Newport Beach events inspired part of the script, and many of the cast and crew are from the area. Producer/co-writer Laura Boersma explains, “We’re thrilled to premiere here; it’s clearly a diverse community that we feel will embrace this film.”

TIP SHEET

When: Through May 1

Where: Edwards Big Newport, Edwards Island Cinemas (inside the Fashion Island mall), Regency Lido Theater, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach Public Library, Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center

Web: newportbeachfilmfest.com

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