Now celebrating its 19th year, the Newport Beach Film Festival has become a major fixture on the crowded festival circuit and is increasingly recognized internationally as one of the leading lifestyle film fests in the U.S. This year, NBFF will spotlight more than 350 films from some 50 countries, bringing to Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking and showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films from around the globe.
The theme this year is See Who Made the Cut.
“We had close to 3,500 submissions, and each official submission is viewed five times,” says NBFF CEO and executive director Gregg Schwenk. “We really respect the filmmakers and their work, and some great films were edged out by even greater ones.”
Schwenk has helped spearhead the festival’s growth and broadened its horizons, and notes that this year, “in conjunction with sponsor Pacific Sales, we’re expanding our non-fiction programming with the introduction of our Culinary Film Series, a new documentary film program that celebrates emerging and prominent gourmet chefs, the art of gastronomy, international food culture, and the craft of winemaking and distilling.”
Schwenk adds that while the fest’s culinary focus has always been strong, this is the first time it has created a whole section and partnered with major chefs to celebrate food-focused films.
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NBFF can boast a growing number of film premieres. “We also have a record number, including ‘Three Days of Glory’ [pictured above], about the 2016 Burgundy wine celebration, which will run in the Culinary Film Series.”
The lineup also includes the West Coast premiere of “Cuban Food Stories.” With more than 60 Orange County restaurants, local culinary schools and Dine Newport Beach participating, the newly curated series expands the festival’s food-themed offerings and gives festgoers the latest in culinary cinema, along with tastings created by local chefs and vintners.
“This year we’ve also expanded our popular AA+D series,” says Schwenk. The program showcases films celebrating art, architecture, design, photography, futurism, modernism and fashion. It highlights emerging and prominent artists who have influenced and inspired designers, curators, historians and independent filmmakers. It ranges from the vibrant counterculture art scene of 1960s London, to the mountains of Patagonia, to the Palm Springs modernism movement.
AA+D will spotlight independent feature-length and short documentary films, including the world premieres of “Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles”; the world premiere of “Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With the Future”; and the U.S. premiere of French docu “L’Architecte Textile.”
With its growing international focus, the festival is also spotlighting cinema from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Chile, Sweden, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, France and Australia.
“Each night we’re focusing on a different place and geography, and each night we’ll also try to reflect the huge diversity of Southern California,” Schwenk says. “We’ll have U.K. and European spotlights, a Pacific Rim one, and we’ll have a Latin showcase featuring Mexico, Chile and Brazil. And we have a particularly strong array of Irish films, shorts and documentaries — the largest number on the West Coast.”
To what does Schwenk attribute the fest’s success? “We’re very focused on the filmmakers, and we offer a great mix of art and commerce. I talk to filmmakers at festivals all over the world and many tell me they were able to find funding here, and that their films got picked up here.”
Geography also helps. “With our beach location, we’re like the Cannes of California, and more and more we’re seeing distributors and sales agents come down from L.A. to spend a few days here and catch some really great films. And that didn’t happen even five years ago.”
Looking ahead, Schwenk predicts more growth in such areas as VR and possibly TV pilots. “Last year we hit 55,000, and we’re hoping to meet or beat that this year.”