Five Things We Learned - April 28, 2017

Newport Beach Film Festival - Day Eight: Five Things We Learned
by Marshall
by Marshall hmv London, Bio Word monkey, nerd, film guy, gamer

Newport Beach Film Festival - Day Eight: Five Things We Learned

Having spent a week immersed in movies, within hugging distance of the folks who made them, surrounded by like-minded film fans happy to talk for hours about cinema, fuelled by pizza, popcorn and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, a beloved sponsor dedicated to rescuing festival guests from sobriety, how, by the beard of Zeus, is a person supposed to return to real life?

Tonight, at the closing night party, while saying our goodbyes to festival folks we’ve come to love this past week, we’re going to find festival co-founder and CEO Gregg Schwenk, and attempt to convince him that the only sensible course of action is to extend the festival into a 52-weeks-a-year event. All we ask is to live in this beautiful bubble forever.

 Welcome to Day Eight – the final day - of the Newport Beach Film Festival!


Heart and soul.

By the time a movie makes it to your local cinema, chances are you’ll have seen a few trailers already, maybe read a couple of reviews and generally soaked up the buzz to the point where you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Many of the films screened at Newport Beach, however, haven’t seen the inside of a cinema before, and though some have toured the festival circuit, they’re still relatively unknown quantities. When you head to a screening here, then, you have to be prepared to be surprised, and what a wonderful, uncommon feeling, uncertainty is.


Case in point, a new movie from award-winning writer/director Angela Shelton called Heart, Baby! At first glance you might think it’s a prison boxing movie, kind of like Rocky meets The Shawshank Redemption. We’ll tell you right here, though - and apologies for the spoiler – but that is not the case. In reality, this affecting drama tells the powerful true tale of a young black man (Gbenga Akinnagbe), imprisoned at 18, whose burgeoning boxing skills catch the eye of Olympic scouts. But to accept their offer of freedom, in exchange for representing the US at the 1984 Olympics, would mean leaving the secret love of his life behind – his white transgender cellmate (Shawn-Caulin Young).


How to describe Heart, Baby!? An LGBT prison biopic featuring graphic depictions of rape and murder? That’s accurate. A film about love and learning tolerance with strong Christian values? That also applies. A celebration of the heart and human spirit, with a catchy country soundtrack and unexpected notes of humour. Again, all correct. From cut throats to cross dressers, Heart, Baby! tells a bittersweet sweet tale of interracial romance, with boxing. Honestly, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and for that reason alone, given the chance, you should see it.


The thing is, it’s also a very good movie, fearlessly depicting the harsh realities, and sensitively revealing the sweet distractions, of prison life. Co-starring Twilight star Jackson Rathbone and peppered with familiar faces, it’s a film that, even now, will startle and delight you.


Five Questions With…


Angela Shelton, who you may remember from 2004’s Searching For Angela Shelton, a film in which Angela Shelton sought fellow Angela Sheltons, wrote and directed festival favourite Heart, Baby! No Angela Sheltons were harmed in the writing of this paragraph.


Who’s your movie idol?


Spielberg is my movie idol because his movies made such an impression on me growing up. I aspire to be a baby Spielberg with rougher edges and more cursing. Actually Heart, Baby! is my homage to him. I even started the film on purple fabric as a shout-out to The Color Purple.”


What’s your go-to comfort film?


Harold and Maude is my go-to movie, just because it's brilliant. I'd say the Color Purple but I've seen it so many times, and cry like a baby every time, that I couldn't put that under comfort. Harold and Maude makes me smile from ear to ear. ‘Harold!’”


From the initial thought, to the final press event, what’s your favourite part of the movie making process?


Writing the script and then the casting process. It is a joy to my heart when the perfect actor walks into the room and brings your character to life.”


What would you like people to know about your new film?


I've been told by many audience members that Heart, Baby! is a Christian realism movie, they've added ‘realism’ because it tells the truth of violence, anger and loss, while having the heart of brotherhood, love and faith.”


What’s the question that, during interviews, you’re surprised you’re not asked more? Please then answer that!


I'm not asked what my next project is as much as I expect. I'm working on another true story about a Vietnamese family escaping Vietnam in the late ‘70s. It is another true story that will burst your heart open.





Angela Shelton on the set of Heart, Baby!
Angela Shelton on the set of Heart, Baby!
Eric Stoltz (centre) with Class Rank stars Skyler Gisondo (left) and Olivia Holt (right).
Eric Stoltz (centre) with Class Rank stars Skyler Gisondo (left) and Olivia Holt (right).

Better the Devil you know.


There’s lots we’d like to tell you about our final festival film, Devil’s Gate, a scream-out-loud chiller with genius-level sound, production and character design, but honestly, within the first five minutes there’s already a huge surprise, then a shock reveal, a twist, a massive scare… Chances are, by the time it’s released, you’ll know way more about this film than is good for you, but here, at least, we’re not going to ruin the fun.


What can we say, then? Well, it’s set in the middle of nowhere, a flat, dusty nothing in North Dakota called Devil's Gate. Great name. Amanda Schull, who you’ll recognise from the TV shows Suits and 12 Monkeys, plays an earnest FBI agent on the trail of a missing mother and son. Together with local cop Shawn Ashmore (X-Men’s Iceman), the search leads them to a freaky farmhouse owned by a deranged, anti-social local (Milo Ventimiglia). He’s the sort of guy whose secrets have secrets, and those secrets have something locked in the basement…


Devil’s Gate is a franchise, for sure. Scary, mysterious, delirious fun with bravura practical effects and unhinged, compelling performances, it’s a carnival of delights.


Class act. 

Rain Man meets Rushmore in Class Rank, a strange, sweet and side-splitting, winning, whimsical and wonderful teen flick about high school outsiders who take on the system and learn a variety of life and love lessons along the way. Starring Skyler GisondoOlivia HoltBruce Dern and Kristin Chenoweth, it is shepherded with confidence, humour and humanity by director Eric Stoltz, a veteran actor who counts Mask, Some Kind of Wonderful, The Fly II and Pulp Fiction among his credits.


Who better than Stoltz to answer our final Five Questions of the festival? And since he’s bona fide movie legendhow could we resist asking a further five? Our final Five Questions, then, is actually our first Ten Questions.


Who’s your movie idol?


Charlie Chaplin. Just about all his work was stunning and independent and bursting with humanity.​ I also like Jean Renoir for similar reasons. And Montgomery Clift in the acting department, though Bugs Bunny remains a favourite as well.


What’s your go-to comfort film?


The Godfather. Just about perfection on every level.​


From the initial thought, to the final press event, what’s your favourite part of the movie making process?


The actual shooting. Getting it on its feet, when the actors are hopefully allowed to breath life into words on a page. That process is a bit miraculous.​


What would you like people to know about your new film?


That they'll have a good time watching it.​


What’s the question that, during interviews, you’re surprised you’re not asked more? Maybe it’s a question you’ve never been asked, but would love to answer. Please then answer it!


Well, I haven't really done that many interviews, certainly not“ My answer’s this: when I was acting, I could count on one hand the number of directors who bothered to speak to me in a way that would bring out the best performance. Most actors learn very early on to protect themselves, to make sure they don't look like dopes. Almost no one will try to challenge them towards growth and bravery, so it's easy to get stuck in a rut.


A lot of directors that I worked with in the ‘80s and 90s were technically astounding. They knew exactly where to put the camera and where to edit, but the most they could muster to the actors would be ‘Do it faster’, which was dispiriting at times and resulted in a great deal of soulless films that were still kind of amazing to experience.


A true exploration of the text and the character was very rare indeed, and I think the stories that matter - see The Godfather - are the ones where the characters and the acting are just as stunning as the camera work and production design.”


You’ve directed a lot of television but only now moved on to features, with two films coming this year. Why switch to movies now, and what are the key differences between directing the big and small screens?


The sense of time is better on a film. Doing a TV show is a bit like being a squirrel in California, which is to say that because of the weather you always think winter is coming, so you're driven to continually gather nuts and never relax for a moment! On a film, one has a different relationship with time. That being said, that's exactly the thing that is wonderful about television. It's a bit like an indie film in that you barely have time to think or consider any other options.


Also, the food is usually better on a TV show.”


Class Rank and Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk appear, at least on paper, to have a lot in common. What’s the appeal of teenage coming-of-age stories? We remember you starred in a few of your own, back in the day.


Perhaps I have some unhealed wounds from that time in my life, I don't know. And/or I'm drawn to a time when people are struggling to understand first love and how to navigate that.”



Which of your films are you proudest of, and which were the most fun to make?


“I quite like The Waterdance and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, although Pulp Fiction was the most fun to make.​


One of the films you’re most famous for, oddly, is the one you spent five weeks shooting but were supposedly let go from for being “too intense”? Personally, we would have loved to see your version of Back to the Future. How do you feel about the experience, after all these years?


I rarely, if ever, think about it...”


On Memphis Belle, you and your fellow cast mates were given a particularly rough time by director Michael Caton-Jones. Do the means justify the ends? Does being an actor yourself inform your work as a director, and how you work with your casts?


If actors need to be shaken out of their privileged,​ entitled ways – as I always did - then yes, the ends justify the means, as long as people are not wounded in the process. Memphis Belle was also a great deal of fun to make and I still have great affection for those fellas.”


That’s a wrap.


In addition to his enviable festival-arranging abilities, Gregg Schwenk is a man who knows how to throw a party. At the closing night gala, an outdoor affair beside the Lido Theatre peppered with generous open bars, yummy food stalls and classy carnival acts, the NBFF CEO is in a celebratory mood, toasting the success of the 2017 fest, while at the same time, setting the wheels in motion for next year’s big screen shenanigans.


2017 has been a record year for the Newport Beach Film Festival,” says Gregg. “We had sold out performances every day. We had over 500 films from 50 different countries. We had the largest collection of Irish films, and one of the largest delegations from Australia, in the festival’s history. We’re very proud of the global nature of the festival and look forward to expanding that aspect in years to come.”


Already, scouts are being despatched to distant lands in search of treasures for 2018. The wheels are likewise in motion for next February’s UK Honours Event. For the moment, though, we have no plans to run the festival here for 52 weeks a year,” replies Gregg, generously humouring us when we suggest that course of action. “But it’s something to shoot for!”


And that’s all folks - at least for now. We’ve had a blast at Newport Beach, and hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our adventures. We’d like to thank everyone who made our stay such a happy, productive experience, but now it’s time to go home and catch up on a week of sleep. With luck, we’ll dream of the festival fun to come.


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