Looking Ahead to the Newport Beach Film Festival

With the Newport Beach Film Festival just around the corner starting this Thursday, the New University brings you an inside look into some of the upcoming films at this year’s festival.

Film: “The Nature of Existence”
Showtime: Saturday, April 25, 11:00 a.m.
Location: Edwards Island 5

The run time for “The Nature of Existence” runs merely 94 minutes, yet the unofficial preproduction period for the film lasted nearly a lifetime.

Director Roger Nygard attributes the creation of this existential documentary to three events. The first came when he was 7-years-old and first became aware of death, the last occurred when the attacks of Sept. 11 reminded America of its mortality. Falling in between these two events, was the death of one of his parents.

“When my father died [when I was] 13, it brought a concrete example into my awareness when I lost a parent that life is temporary and so that being the case what happens when you die? And nobody had any good answers for me,” Nygard said.

Thus, Nygard searched for his own answer. For the film, Nygard talked to over 175 people for an average of about two hours. During these discussions Nygard asked 85 questions ranging from “Why do we exist?” to “Will there be a doomsday?”

Because this was such a time-consuming project, taking almost four years to complete, Nygard could not possibly condense all the information he gathered into one film. In turn he created the Web site thenatureofexistence.com, in order to show footage not included in the film as well as to exhibit new footage, shot after the documentary was completed. Nygard believes that in the near future such practices will make the role of a distributor obsolete.

“I predict that in a certain number of years, certainly probably less than 10, maybe as few as five, the concept of a distributor is going to become old fashion. Kind of like cassette tapes because you can already distribute your own movies on the Internet,” Nygard said.

Film: “Spooner”
Showtime: Saturday, April 25, 6:00 p.m.
Location: Lido Theater

Herman Spooner’s parents are afflicted with inverse empty nest syndrome. Rather than pining for their child who has flown the coup, they are hoping that their almost 30-year-old son becomes independent.

Spooner’s reaction? Pour all his energy into trying to woo a girl that is way out of his league.

Starring Matthew Lillard and Nora Zehetner, this film takes a different spin on the romantic comedy formula that has swept through the Hollywood film industry. According to the film’s director, Drake Doremus, this has kept the motion picture from being just another sappy comedy.

“It’s not your normal romantic comedy … it has a lot more emotional depth than most romantic comedies and for that it stands out and it’s original in that sense,” Doremus said.

Yet, while 26-year-old Doremus’ first feature-length project may rest outside the limits of standard Hollywood fair, it is not without its inspirations.

“[Paul Thomas] Anderson is a big hero of mine and ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ was definitely a reference of ours,” Doremus said.

Film: “Lightbulb”
Showtime: Saturday, April 25, 7:45 p.m.
Location: Edwards Island 5

Inventing a talking beer opener may not be the most traditional way to begin pre-production on an independent movie, but that is the path screenwriter/producer Mike Cram took.

Following many failed attempts to create a product that proved profitable, Cram finally found a niche by selling a generic talking beer opener. Once started making money, the idea really took off when modifications of the beer opener were released including the most popular model, a Homer Simpson version.

Cram then adapted his real life story of this success into a screenplay. Yet, while Cram’s story is retold on screen, it is up to rising starts Dallas Roberts, Jeremy Renner and Ayelet Zurer to breath lives into this rags to riches story.

“We’re really kind of lucky with our cast … the three leads in the movie did such a great job. They were all kind of on their way up, we couldn’t afford them now,” Cram said.

Cram is confident that the cast’s performance goes beyond the boundaries of his own experiences and touches on a topic that everyone can relate to in such tough economic times.

“It’s kind of a life lesson on how to deal with hard times. You have to be persistent and just hang in there,” Cram said.

Film: “La Juerga”
Showtime: Sunday, April 26, 6:00 p.m.
Location: Edwards Island 2

Inspired by his study abroad experience to Madrid, Spain as a UCI undergraduate, Michael Hill’s “La Juerga” captures the relationship between Juanita, an old Spanish woman, and the fresh-faced American student that lives in her home for four months. Due to the language barrier, Juanita and the student must find an alternative way to communicate.

“This film captures the awkwardness and the eventual love that can be exchanged between two people regardless of the type of communication shared,” Hill said.

Hill’s experience in Spain provided a permanent impression and lasting influence on his future career. Today, Hill is completing his M.F.A. at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Originally, “La Juerga” was his thesis project but the film quickly gained popularity and success, participating in three film festivals. Of the three, Newport Beach Film Festival stays closest to his heart.

“I used to go the Newport Beach Film Festival as a film student at UCI. Over the last four years, I’ve seen it grow enormously. And now, here I am, participating in it. This is a huge honor for me,” stated Hill.

Film: “Andheri”
Showtime: Monday, April 27, 8:15 p.m.
Location: Edwards Island 2

Growing up in Mumbai, Director Sushrut Jain was inspired by the stories of the disadvantaged class. In “Andheri,” his 20-minute live action short set in Mumbai, he sought to capture the life of Anita, a live-in maid who dreams of an independent life in the city. However, with no money or prospects, Anita must accept her quiet and isolated position in life.

Everything changes when Anita impulsively decides to run away. Throughout this journey, she faces life-altering decisions and finds herself in dangerous situations.

“This film is gritty and realistic. Shot in the crowded streets of Mumbai, viewers will see the authentic life of the disadvantaged,” Jain said.

The film has already gained international success, participating in several festivals including the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France, the Nashville Film Festival, the Edinburgh Film Festival in Scotland, the Gulf Film Festival in the UAE and the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

“I am so thrilled that this film has received such high praise. Although this is not a big-market, mainstream film like Slumdog Millionaire, people are still interested in learning about India and its people,” Jain said.

Film: “The Road to Fondwa”
Showtime: Wednesday, April 29, 6:00 p.m.
Location: Edwards Island 2

Haiti is often cast in an unfortunate light as a nation torn by violence and marked by poverty. But amidst that cloud of negativity is a beam of optimism in the form of Justin Brandon’s documentary, “The Road to Fondwa.”

Having directed a documentary in Ghana, Justin became involved with this project when his friends and film co-directors, Dan Schnorr and Brian McElroy, who were in Haiti, asked him to participate in the documentary. Despite knowing very little about the country at first, he was graciously welcomed by Haitians, who set the uplifting tone for the documentary.

“The Road to Fondwa” centers around a rural community and its local University of Fondwa, highlighting the community’s efforts to provide opportunities for Haitians through educational programs as well as a priest who helped to build a road to promote commerce and developed a microcredit program to jumpstart Haitians financially.

As Brandon noted of the development efforts, “The University of Fondwa has built a system of these projects and wants to plant the seeds for the rest of Haiti.”

Told through the eyes of Haitians, “The Road to Fondwa” shows the progress made by the Fondwa community rather than merely focus on the country’s problems.

“The whole point of the film is to create that human connection rather than guilt the audiences into giving money,” Brandon said.
Referring to the hope the film offers for Haitains and film’s positive reactions, Brandon stressed, “I’ve never seen a film that shows this side of a developing nation before.”