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Newport Beach Film Festival Toasts Brit Buoyancy

The Newport Beach Film Festival and the U.K. film industry don’t at first appear to go together like tea and scones, but in truth the two have a growing partnership.

The Orange County festival will present its third annual U.K. Honors on Feb. 9 at the Bulgari Hotel in London. British photographer David Bailey and actors Miranda Richardson and Charles Dance will receive the icon awards, while Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” will be honored for achievement in global cinema.

Other awards will go to the Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival, Pinewood Studios, Creative Scotland, and the Ink Factory as arts champions.

Variety, HMV and Visit Newport Beach California are also hosting the Feb. 9 event. Variety also curated the 10 Brits to Watch this year. One Direction singer Harry Styles, “Game of Thrones” actor Alfie Allen and theater director Kate Hewitt are among this year’s honorees.

Newport Beach Film Festival executive director Gregg Schwenk says the relationship between the festival and U.K. film business dates back to the festival’s beginnings in 1999.

“The Newport Beach Film Festival has, since its inception, had a strong focus on celebrating U.K. film,” Schwenk says. “Our very first year, we did a celebration of British cinema where we recognized the legendary cinematographer and director Guy Green, and we have since built on that.”

Over the years, the festival has featured a “strong array of the very best in British cinema,” including 2004 indie sleeper “Layer Cake.”

A few years ago, Schwenk sat down with some of the festival’s sponsors to discuss ideas to try and grow the festival and its reputation beyond the confines of the city of Newport Beach.

“One of the ideas was to look at some of the international components of the festival, in that we have approximately 50 to 55 different countries represented at the festival every year, so we came upon the idea of doing a major celebration in London,” Schwenk explains.

Thus the U.K. Honors were born. In the first year, the awards were given to “The Imitation Game,” Morten Tyldum’s Oscar best picture nominee; stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley attended the festivities. Last year, another Oscar best pic nominee, “Brooklyn,” was celebrated, and star Saoirse Ronan attended.

“I, Daniel Blake,” this year’s film honoree, addresses the state of social welfare in the U.K. The movie won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and also recently snagged BAFTA nominations for film and director. Even though the film may be a smaller, more independent affair than the two previous honorees, Schwenk believes “I, Daniel Blake” fits the U.K. Honors requirement of a film that “leaves you changed and with a different perspective.”

“I think the film is extremely poignant and timely, firstly because of frustration with the government, and secondly because it’s asking the eternal questions, ‘Why are we here and what is the role of government?’

“If the role of government is to assist and make our lives better, then it shouldn’t be putting people through hurdles that don’t necessarily need to be there. Granted it’s about the U.K. social welfare system, but the underlying themes of human dignity and compassion are definitely universal and will transcend not only to the U.S., but to the rest of the world.”

The Newport Beach Film Festival itself will take place April 20-27.

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