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    Newport Beach Film Festival set to kick off with movies, parties, awards
    • October 11, 2023

    Newport Beach might be a traffic jam away from the glitz and glam of Hollywood, but for eight days starting Thursday, Oct. 12, the spotlight will shine in Orange County.

    The Newport Beach Film Festival, now in its 24th year, will bring in some 300 films from 50 countries this year and regularly draws an estimated 50,000 viewers who show up to not just watch movies, but to celebrate the art and craft of filmmaking through discussions, parties, awards and appearances.

    Along with the red carpets and industry seminars, musical performances and fashion shows are planned as well as food tastings and, new this year, behind-the-scene chats with book authors, an acclaimed music producer and an interior designer who took his skills to television.

    In addition to the films held in theaters throughout Newport Beach during the festival, there are 18 special events on the schedule, including an opening night gala for 2,000 people at Fashion Island.

    “We’re tremendously excited, the Newport Beach Film Festival has become the largest luxury lifestyle film event and the largest entertainment event of our kind in coastal California,” said Gregg Schwenk, CEO and co-founder of the NBFF.

    The festival, which started in 1999, has something for everyone and is open to everyone, he said. The event isn’t just Newport Beach’s film festival, but has become Orange County’s film festival.

    “I’m giving everyone a personal invitation,” he said. “We’re able to reflect the rich diversity of Orange County and celebrate the unique storytelling from around the world and shine a spotlight on our community.”

    Among the hundreds of films, there’s feature-length narratives, documentaries, shorts, animations, youth and student films.

    “The festival celebrates contemporary screen culture, cinematic excellence, and engages the community in compelling conversations with filmmakers and artists,” the event description says.

    Zoe Saldana attends The World’s Most Fascinating Dinner at Hall Des Lumieres on September 21, 2023 in New York City. Opening night of the Newport Beach Film Festival on Oct. 12 kicks off with the North American premiere of “The Absence of Eden” staring Saldana. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

    Opening night kicks off with the North American premiere of a film with one of the biggest names in Hollywood, Marvel and Avatar actress Zoe Saldaña, staring in “The Absence of Eden.”

    The film “explores the humanity of immigration and the fragility of life through three interwoven narratives: a young boy tries to save his undocumented friend from deportation; an immigration agent unknowingly dooms a former lover; and a cartel trafficker carries out his last mission,” the description says.

    The film “Seasick” will have its U.S. premiere at the festival and is among the many international films being screen. The environmental film looks at the devastating impact of pollution and overfishing in New Zealand’s only marine park, a once-thriving ecosystem now on the brink of collapse.

    The film festival is also a chance to honor people making waves in the industry. Eugenio Derbez, a well-known actor in Mexico’s television and film world, will receive the “Icon Award.”

    One of the Centerpiece films is director Todd Haynes’ Netflix movie “May December” starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton. Haynes will earn the “Outstanding Achievement in Directing Award.”

    Honors will also be awarded to Patricia Clarkson, Glenn Howerton and Jack Huston, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Jesse Williams and William Shatner.

    William Shatner will receive the “Legend Award,” while screening a documentary about the Emmy-award winner’s life called “You Can Call Me Bill.” (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

    Shatner will receive the “Legend Award,” while screening a documentary about the Emmy-award winner’s life called “You Can Call Me Bill.”

    Prior to a screening of the film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” on Oct. 13, producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller will be honored with the “Maverick Award.”

    “We’re very proud of all the amazing films and people we have,”  Schwenk said.

    New this year are free public discussions with creators, including Rainn Wilson (known for “The Office”) on Oct. 14, about his new book “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution,” which explores the “problem-solving benefits that spirituality provides to create solutions and ultimately find happiness in an increasingly challenging world,” the event descriptions says.

    That same day, music producer and songwriter Mark Ronso will also take the stage in the Bloomingdale’s courtyard at Fashion Island for a discussion.

    The following day, Oct. 15, there will be a conversation with “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” creator Judy Blume, as well as writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, and producers James L. Brooks and Julie Ansell.

    “It’s a whole new aspect of the festival,” Schwenk said, noting the discussions will take place on the main stage at Fashion Island.

    “Film is a collaborative art form. It takes a myriad of different people with highly unique skill sets to come together to produce film or television,” he said. “We’re always looking to show the behind the scenes.”

    Director and writer Jim Sheridan will attend a special retrospective screening of “In the Name of the Father” on Oct. 15, about the 1993 biographical crime drama based on the true story of the Guildford Four, in which four people were falsely convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings that killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian.

    The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaie.

    This year, the festival will be holding a culinary reception on Oct. 17 to celebrate the premiere of Susan Feniger’s “Forked,” a documentary film chronicling her journey opening her first solo restaurant.

    The event will feature signature bites from the James Beard award-winner,  a brief Q&A alongside her partner, filmmaker and Emmy Award winner Liz Lachman, and leads into the screening of the film.

    The following night, Oct. 18, the festival will feature Bobby Berk, interior design expert and Emmy-nominated TV host of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” at a 30-minute Q&A for his new book, “Right at Home: How Good Design Is Good for the Mind.”

    The festival will also hold its annual invite-only honors and Variety’s “10 Actors to Watch” at the Balboa Bay Resort. The festival ends on closing night with “The Holdovers,” which is already sold out.

    General admission film tickets are $20, with discounts for active military, first responders and students. Find the schedule at

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    ​ Orange County Register