Newport Beach Film Festival - Day Two: Five Things We Learned
There are so many great and fascinating films to see, so many charismatic and interesting people to chat with and so many gorgeous and sparkly SoCal sights to soak up at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the real challenge here is to be present and remain focused on one delight at a time. Because for us, we’re in kid-in-a-candy-store territory and our excitement is stuck on 11.
Welcome to our Day Two report!
Revenge of the Nerds.
“I was wondering, on the way over here,” says director Blake Robbins, whose film, The Scent of Rain & Lightning (pictured aboove), is showing at Newport Beach, “what is it I love so much about film festivals?
“It’s like that quintessential American movie about the kid who sits alone in the cafeteria. No one will eat their lunch with him, but at the end of the movie he goes to the prom with the girl of his dreams and the whole school, even the teachers, turn and start clapping and cheering.
“That’s what a film festival is for filmmakers. They’re our catnip. We’re the guys who ate alone, but when we come to festivals, everyone’s clapping and cheering and saying, ‘Oh my God – you’re here!’
“What’s not to like?”
The world, and everything in it.
Although movie stars are, of course, warmly welcomed at Newport Beach, at its heart it’s a festival for filmmakers, for writers, directors, cinematographers and the like, artists making movies of every size and genre to keep us challenged, informed, inspired and entertained.
From heavyweight studio productions to micro-budgeted indies, from shorts and documentaries to features and seminars, from local surfing movies to lovingly curated collections of films from every corner of the earth, the Newport Beach Film Festival has won a rightful place among the world’s leading celebrations of cinema.
Among its many highlights this year, the festival is keenly promoting a lively Irish Showcase including premieres of must-see movies A Date for Mad Mary, an elevating comedy/drama about a woman’s post-prison quest to sort her life out, and The Secret Scripture, a drama which sees a woman keeping an honest, affecting diary of her stay at a mental hospital. Directed by the great Jim Sheridan, of My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father fame, the film stars the likes of Rooney Mara, Aidan Turner and Jack Reynor, and hits UK cinemas on May 19, so keep a sharp eye out for that one.
A life on the ocean wave.
Since most of the festival’s activities unfold indoors, in the dark, we jumped at the chance to tour glorious Newport Harbor, a sprawling recreational paradise so postcard picture-perfect, the locals are loath to ever leave it. It’s the sort of place that almost justifies the creation of the word ‘staycation’ - a seemingly endless, idyllic parade of beautiful, pint-sized beaches and adorable, multi-million dollar homes with sailboats, paddleboarders and the occasional sunbathing seal decorating the calm, blue waters.
Parts of the movie Beaches were shot there, on a patch of sand exotically named Pirate Cove. The local tourist board are keen to promote the area to filmmakers as clearly, it’s a glorious location. Quite why more film and TV crews haven’t already exploited the area is a mystery, though it would be a shame if it ever got too crowded.
Shirley Temple, Hollywood’s original child star, used to live in a house lining the harbour, as did John Wayne, arguably Newport Beach’s most famous local. Duke, as he was widely known, owned a wooden boat, we discovered, called the Wild Goose. Currently available to rent for fancy events, it’s a former WWII minesweeper, really the 1950s equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Gulf War Humvee. Boys and their toys, eh?
Doc of the day…
Though it’s early days, of course, and there are many full, fun days of screenings to come, our favourite film of the festival so far is the rousing, remarkable Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story.
Beautifully shot, insightful and inspiring, it’s a heartfelt and artfully made documentary about a cool, outdoorsy chef who, while hiking alone in the wild, stumbled across a dead bear. Compelled to touch it - because, you know, why not? – he later woke up beside it, having been shocked with 2400 volts of electricity. No way he could have known the bear was lying on an exposed, forgotten power line. But still, the first lesson of the movie is, don’t touch bears.
The second, and more profound lesson, which you’ll learn as you watch Eduardo’s brave and unexpectedly chirpy recovery unfold, is that if a guy who loses his hand, half his chest and a big chunk of his head can come back from those injuries – not to mention a shock cancer twist - a wiser, stronger, better person, then surely there’s nothing in our own lives that we can’t similarly overcome.
Yet it’s not only Eduardo’s story that stirs. Charged is almost equally the tale of his best friend, and former girlfriend, Jennifer Jane, who cared for him above and beyond any conceivable call of duty. The two of them really are the most special people, and it was a privilege to meet them at the festival. Without wanting to gush or sound too New Age, there’s just a light to them that people gravitate towards. It’ll be a while before the movie comes to cinemas, but remember its name: Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story.
Discovering wonderful new films like this, then getting to meet the people who made them, are two of the best things about film festivals. The third is parties, but we’ll get to them another day.
Five Questions With…
Blake Robbins, who we heard from earlier, is an actor and filmmaker whose latest film, The Scent of Rain & Lightning, is an early hit of the festival, a complex, labyrinthine thriller full of surprises and dark family secrets. Today it’s Blake’s turn to answer our five favourite questions.
Who’s your movie idol?
“I’m going to go with Robert Redford. He’s an actor turned filmmaker turned iconoclast. I couldn’t even dream that big. Whatever one thinks of what the Sundance Film Festival has become, certainly its founding principle, the focusing of the lens on the little filmmaker, changed the industry. He’s a great actor. A great director. And he’s good-looking, at any age!”
What’s your go-to comfort film?
“There are a couple. One is Splendor in the Grass, with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. I’ll watch that any time. Another is Slap Shot, with Paul Newman. That’s a great sports movie. Whenever I see it’s on TV, even if it’s half over, I have no choice but to watch it to the end.”
From the initial thought, to the final press event, what’s your favourite part of the movie making process?
“Casting the actors and working with them. Working with actors is a sacred relationship. Coming to trust them enough to choose them, then making the film with them is a tireless experience. Every other aspect of filmmaking can drain me, to a certain degree, but I could easily go 10 or 12 hours with actors, just working on material.”
What would you like people to know about your new film?
“It’s really important to me as a storyteller to make movies that people can’t put down. I believe that applies to The Scent of Rain & Lightning.”
What’s the question that, during interviews, you’re surprised you’re not asked more?
“How did you get so darn handsome? OK that was a joke! I try to be in the moment, and don’t really think about what I’m not asked. Honestly I’m flattered that people want to ask me anything.”