Newport Beach Film Festival Goes Big

Over the course of last week, the 10th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival showcased over 400 films from 45 different countries at Edwards Island Cinemas in Fashion Island and Lido Theater in Newport Peninsula.

Attracting a record attendance of 51,000 people to its screenings, seminars and parties, the April 23 to 30 event transformed Newport Beach into a Hollywood haven of A-list stars, gifted filmmakers and well-versed moviegoers.

Over a dozen films were sold out and many screenings were oversold, including closing night’s “(500) Days of Summer,” featuring Zooey Deschanel, and MTV’s “Streetdreams,” featuring Ryan Sheckler (“Life of Ryan”) and Rob Dyrdek (“Rob and Big”).

The festival showcased an array of genres, including romantic comedies, documentaries, action, sports, short films and dramas in a variety of languages from across the world. One of the Asian feature films, “Modern Boy,” attracted a full audience and won the jury’s pick for best cinematography.

Set during the Japanese occupation of South Korea, “Modern Boy” follows the story of Lee Hae Myung (Hye-Su Kim) a young and caddish man who stays oblivious to the country’s colonization as long as life is fun. As the nation’s capital, Seoul, becomes modernized in the midst of the Japanese occupation, Hae Myung and his Japanese friend Shinsuke live lucratively, frequently attending dance clubs and sporting high-end clothing.

However, when Hae Myung meets Laura (Hae-Il Park), a beautiful and captivating bar girl, his world of money and good times takes a turn for the worst. Laura runs off with his possessions and money, forcing Hae Myung to face the violence and corruption of the Japanese occupation, while pursuing his undying love for the seemingly conniving Laura.

With vivid and dream-like images of lively Seoul, there is no question that “Modern Boy” demonstrates beautiful cinematography. In addition, the actors prove to be driving forces in the film as Ki, and Park deliver a powerful and touching performance of love, responsibility and dedication.

As powerful as the actors are, their intensity becomes slightly too much in the most climactic parts of the movie. In moments of confrontation and difficult decision-making, the acting mirrors that of Korean soap operas. However, this alone does not take away from the fact that the artistic set design makes the movie powerful and enthralling.

Another successful feature film, “Answer Man,” found its captivating success in the film’s raw acting rather than the cinematography. This romantic comedy follows Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels), the reclusive author of “Me and God,” a book that redefines spirituality for an entire generation and has been translated into over 100 languages. Twenty years after the book is published, Faber is still considered to be the man with all the answers. It is not until Faber crosses paths with Elizabeth (Lauren Graham) a single mom raising her 7-year-old son, and Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci), a young man fresh out of rehab, that they all realize he doesn’t have any answers.

Actors Daniels and Graham (“Gilmore Girls”) perform phenomenally as they tackle some of life’s most difficult questions. Their chemistry and comfortable persona deliver a touching, relaxing and simple story of friendship, love and self-inspection.

Present at the film’s screening was director and screenwriter John Hindman. Providing a brief prologue before the film, Hindman said, “You will see that this film explores religion quite a bit. But sometimes, the answers are not found up there or in a book. Sometimes they are found within each other … as is the case for Arlen Faber, Elizabeth and Kris.”

After the film finished, viewers had an opportunity to ask Hindman questions during the question and answer segment. He recognized that this film had a lot to do with his own opinions and perspectives on life and love.

“I love old films. Their simplicity and simple love strike me as fascinating. I wanted to do the same by letting the film’s characters reconcile with themselves when their questions weren’t answered,” Hindman said.

Along with Hindman, many other filmmakers were present at their screenings, giving attendees a rare opportunity to ask questions, comment on the film and discuss their opinions. Some were big-budget filmmakers and others were independent, trying to showcase their talent to the community.

Among them were some of UC Irvine’s finest filmmakers, who were given a chance to showcase their short films. During the collegiate showcase, Adam Fazel’s “Attempt 15,” Keegan Flynn’s “black light,” Brandon Tansley’s “Dead End Job,” Desiree Rosen’s “For You,” Adam Angeles’ “The Hero,” Russel Bush and Allen Ho’s “Locomotion,” Mike Small’s “Lunch Break,” Gina Chun’s “Sorry We’re Closed,” Emily Kim’s “Spark” and Justin Nguyen’s untitled film were all screened on Sunday, April 26.

The filmmakers, their friends and family and some random viewers filled the theater with support and excitement as each film played on the big screen.

“It was so nerve-wracking because people other than classmates, like family and friends, were watching the films,” said Kim, the director of “Spark” and a fourth-year film and media studies major at UCI. Yet, I was so excited to see my film play on the big screen like that … I didn’t know that it looked so different.”

Aside from showcasing her film, Kim also worked as a programmer for the festival. Seeing the insides and outsides of the festival proved to be an amazing and educational experience for her.

“The adrenaline of it all was absolutely crazy. Being around the crowd, other successful filmmakers and co-workers was so exhilarating,” Kim said. “When it was all said and done, I was so proud because as a programmer, we made it happen. We watched the films and helped organize the entire thing. It was nice seeing the hard work pay off.”

In addition, there were some other short films including “Mildred Richards,” meant to be a classic “whodunnit?” The story is simple and entertaining enough, but the real draw of the film is its genre. As a “radio film picture,” it was shot (in black and white) to fit a pre-recorded radio drama from the 1940s. Director/writer Marc Kess hopes that it will set off a new trend. While one may find stories from the ’40s to be amusing in their predictability and near-cartoonishness, Kess made an interesting point about character development in these radio films: Female characters are developed more fully because they are presented as fleshed out through dialogue rather than … well, flesh.

Another short film worth mentioning is “Finding,” which tracks the assignment of some kind of “watcher” as he keeps tabs on the daughter of one of his old colleagues. In a brief period of time, the film develops its characters quite nicely, ponders the feelings associated with spying on someone, and has a nice, though slightly predictable, plot twist. Impressively, the film was shot on a budget of $17,000, despite looking as if it cost about 10 times as much.

In terms of cinematography, it trumped the other shorts. It also had a plot which seemed best for expansion into a feature-length film, and one can’t help but feel that it would be better off longer. Nevertheless, it’s still a fairly touching and engaging story as it is.

Among the feature-length films, “Capers” was welcome. With the remake of “Ocean’s 11,” we were fed many “caper” movies, including its sequels, and a remake of “The Italian Job.” “Capers” is a bit of a spoof of such films, a comedy revolving around three different groups of thieves attempting to steal the same safe. It cleverly assigns a different cinematic style to each group; the “amateurs,” Fitz and Dino, live in a ’70s world (inspired by “Dog Day Afternoon”), as they attempt to put together their team. Lana and Slava, Arab-Slav twins, lead black-and-white, film noir lives and need money for citizenship papers. Ronald and Maya are G-Loan Sharks who often move as if they are in a rap music video. This shift in styles keeps the film fresh throughout (not that it suffers from a dearth of jokes to do the same).

“Capers” manages to combine goofiness, uniqueness and a lot of racial-stereotype jokes in good proportion. One can imagine the unorthodoxy of the film preventing it from seeing a wider release, but, hopefully it overcomes that. It’s time we saw a heist film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that has something other than smooth talkers and ridiculously complicated crimes.

With a wide variety of films and documentaries this year, from an action sports film series and national spotlights to the UCI showcase, the Newport Beach Film Festival has become an all-encompassing festival with something for everyone.