Nobody can quite explain why, but there’s long been a significant thread connecting the Newport Beach Film Festival to British film culture. The Southern California festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this spring, always features a popular showcase of U.K. films. And now, for the fifth year running, the Southern California fest’s U.K. Honors is heading to England to celebrate the best of British entertainment.
The star-studded event takes place Feb. 7 at The Langham Hotel in London, three days before the BAFTA film awards.
“For whatever reason, there’s always been kind of a cultural affinity between the audience that comes to the Newport Beach Film Festival and the U.K. marketplace,” says Gary Sherwin, president and CEO of Visit Newport Beach. “We’ve always had some great actresses and actors that come from the U.K. to attend the festival.”
Sherwin mentions recent visitors including current Oscar nominee Olivia Colman, Simon Pegg and Jared Harris.
“Our organization has had a presence in the U.K. for many years,” he adds. “It’s a large source of visitation for the city, one of our top three visitor markets.”
Five years ago, Sherwin met with Gregg Schwenk, executive director of the Newport Fest, to discuss exploring an international partnership. “He always wanted to do something that celebrates [the British] aspect of the film festival, and we certainly wanted a way to help tell the Newport Beach story. So together we thought, what if we could do an event in conjunction with BAFTA weekend?
“As a BAFTA member, and a board member for the British American Business Council, I’ve always had a unique understanding of the role the creative industries play in the U.K. Because of my background, and because of our festival’s strong historical ties to the U.K., creating an honors program in London was a very natural and organic step for us.”
The first U.K. Honors Awards event celebrated “The Imitation Game,” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in attendance. “And then subsequently we had other filmmakers coming to us and saying, ‘Can we be part of this?’ So this has grown from what was a really nice celebration of a particular British film to more of a broad-based award ceremony. And last year it was designated as kind of the opening-night event for BAFTA weekend.”
This year, Yorgos Lanthimos’ acerbic royal tragicomedy “The Favourite,” nominated for 10 Oscars and 12 BAFTAs, will be honored for achievement in global cinema. Previous film honorees include “Darkest Hour” and “Brooklyn.”
This year’s icon honorees are Julian Fellowes, the novelist and screenwriter responsible for the Oscar-winning film “Gosford Park” and the smash hit period drama “Downton Abbey,” and John Lloyd, the television producer best-known for his work on “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “Blackadder.”
Honors for Artists of Distinction, given to those who combine their craft with philanthropy, go to Rob Brydon (“The Trip” series), Lily Cole (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), Laura Carmichael (“Downton Abbey”) Richard Dormer (“Game of Thrones”), and Joanne Froggatt (“Downton Abbey.”)
The breakthrough award recipients are Naomi Ackie (“Lady Macbeth”), Ellie Bamber (“Les Misérables”), Hannah John-Kamen (“Game of Thrones”) and Louis Serkis (“The Kid Who Would Be King”).
And the Arts Champion honors, given to “outstanding organizations, corporations, institutions or individuals, that promote, defend, produce, educate, and encourage creativity and the arts” will be awarded to MediCinema, a U.K.-based charity that builds state-of-the-art cinemas in hospitals and health facilities, and Women in Film & TV, which offers professional development to women working in media.
In addition, Variety will present its annual list of 10 Brits to Watch honorees, calling attention to a new generation of talent from cinema, TV, music, and beyond.
The 20th edition of the Newport Beach Film Festival will take place April 25-May 2, with the lineup set to be announced April 1.
What: NBFF U.K. Honors
When: Feb. 7
Where: The Langham Hotel, London