The Newport Beach Film Festival returns, this time with a special John Wayne retrospective.
By RICHARD CHANG
The Orange County Register
The Duke would have been proud.
And perhaps a little embarrassed, because that’s the kind of “pilgrim” he was.
This year’s eighth annual Newport Beach Film Festival will feature a special John Wayne tribute and retrospective, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the legendary actor’s birth. Wayne, who died in 1979, lived the last 14 years of his life in Newport Beach.
The festival will screen nine films starring Wayne, including “True Grit,” “Rio Bravo,” “Stagecoach,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “The Quiet Man,” “The Searchers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “The Shootist.”
It’s the largest Wayne retrospective in recent memory. In addition, festival organizers – in conjunction with the Wayne family and the Newport Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau – will present a John Wayne kickoff gala on April 21 at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach. During that event, the first John Wayne Courage Award will honor individuals who have blazed their own trails in motion pictures and the arts.
“There are many famous actors, but there’s only one John Wayne,” said Gregg Schwenk, the film fest’s CEO, executive director and co-founder. Schwenk remembers seeing the actor on his boat or around town when he was a kid.
“When John Wayne moved to Newport Beach, he was already a legend. He was someone that everyone in the world knew. He was very much a part of the community of Orange County and the community of Newport Beach.”
Also during the retrospective, the festival will offer rarely seen footage, photos and interviews. Filmmakers, co-stars, friends and family members are scheduled to make appearances.
“You don’t have to explain John Wayne to anyone,” said Tim O’Dea, an Anaheim publicist who grew up watching the Duke’s films and spotting him at places like Knott’s Berry Farm.
“He was the hero. With him, right always prevailed. People looked up to him. He was an imposing figure at 6 feet 4 inches tall. He had that classic Hollywood mystique. He was an upright guy, honorable, fun and very, very loyal.”
Indeed, the man born Marion Morrison regularly ranks in the Top 10 of America’s favorite movie stars. The 2007 Harris Poll just placed him at No. 3 – more than 30 years after his last film was released.
Folks who have been in Orange County for a while may remember Wayne’s presence at the Balboa Bay Club, which has a bar and lounge named after him, at The Arches Restaurant, on his yacht the Wild Goose, or waving to tourists from his harbor-front home.
A PLETHORA OF OFFERINGS
Of course, the Duke isn’t the only big feature of the 2007 Newport Beach Film Festival. This year’s 11-day gathering will offer 403 films from 35 countries, including features, shorts, documentaries and animated works.
The opening film will be actor Chad Lowe’s feature-film directorial debut “Beautiful Ohio,” starring William Hurt, Rita Wilson, Juliana Margulies, Michelle Trachtenberg and a host of newcomers to the big screen. “Beautiful Ohio” will run at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at Edwards Big Newport on Fashion Island – one of the largest big screens in the United States.
After the film, the opening-night gala will be held at the Fashion Island Courtyard, with more than a dozen Newport Beach restaurants offering samples of their signature dishes.
The festival will feature a number of spotlight films and receptions, including “Treasure Raiders,” a Russian-U.S. action-adventure flick on April 20; the Southern California premiere of “Shanghai Kiss,” starring Ken Leung and Hayden Panettiere (of NBC’s “Heroes”), on April 21; and the North American premiere of “The Road to San Diego,” an Argentine comedy, on April 21.
On April 22, the film fest will present a trio of Latino movies – “Vinicius” from Brazil and Spain, “Bella” from Mexico and the U.S., and “Ugly Me” from Chile – at Edwards Island Cinemas, with a post-party at the Orange County Museum of Art.
On April 23, three Asian films will be in the spotlight: “Always – Sunset on Third Street” from Japan, “Exiled (Fong Juk)” from China, and the U.S. premiere of “The High Rollers (Tazza)” from South Korea. The post-party will be at American Rag at Fashion Island.
A French film, “Twice Upon a Time (Désaccord parfait)” will be in the spotlight on April 24, and a Swedish movie, “Baba’s Cars,” will have its U.S. premiere that same night.
The closing film will be “Son of Rambow,” a British-French comedy about kids growing up in the 1980s who are fascinated by filmmaking and the Sylvester Stallone “Rambo” series. The movie will screen on April 26, followed by an outdoor catered gala at Via Lido Plaza.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
For filmmakers like Alexander Nevsky, who stars in “Treasure Raiders,” this festival represents an excellent opportunity to share his work with an American audience. Nevsky, who’s already a big star in his native Russia, helped produce the movie, which will have its North American premiere April 20 at Edwards Island Cinemas.
“I’m here, kind of like a representative of modern Russian cinema,” said Nevsky, 35, who built his career via bodybuilding, à la Arnold Schwarzenegger. “In all my movies, we’re trying to shoot them without stereotypes. American movies all have Russian mafia and show them as the bad guys. Here, we have Russians and Americans together, fighting side by side.”
Nevsky added that he is the “biggest John Wayne fan from Russia.”
“John Wayne started it all,” he said. “Before Clint Eastwood, before Arnold Schwarzenegger – he’s the first real action hero.”
Outside the core spotlight screenings, the festival will include dozens of other films and a variety of other things for people to do and see.
There’s an action sports film series, a family series, collections of films and shorts by local college students, and an Orange County student animation showcase and panel.
A free filmmaking seminar series – with topics such as screenwriting, directing, music composition and “Wayne and the Western” – will take place April 21-22 at Edwards Island Cinemas.
“We have a great deal of variety this year,” said Schwenk, who will be leading his eighth festival in a row, all on a volunteer basis. “The festival is an exciting, special opportunity in Southern California. It takes what is normally a passive experience and makes it incredibly active.”
All this activity has helped put Newport Beach – and Orange County – indelibly on the cinematic and cultural map.