Reflections of the Newport Beach Film Festival
As a member of the media representing Secret City Geek Lab and KTST FM, I was privileged to attend the 2014 Newport Beach Film Festival. As the resident movie critic, the majority of my review center on the big budget, mainstream movies that you’d expect a popular culture website to review. Attending the Newport Beach Film Festival was a pleasant surprise and opened my world to what independent film-making has to offer the public.
The Difference Between Big Studio Films and the Independent Filmmaker
I’m in the same shoes as you. You have a limited budget, and if you’re going to spend $15-20 on a movie, you want to be entertained. The big studios, like Disney, Fox, Sony and Universal, understand that as they fight each other to capture that dollar. So they make movies that appeal to you, like comic book movies and existing franchises.
The big studios intentionally stay away from independent films, because they are unproven and require a great deal of money to publicize to the public. They could care less about the passion or message of the independent film. That’s the reason film festivals exist. An independent filmmaker pours his/her heart, sweat and money into making a movie and their only means of distribution is entering it in the festival in hopes that buzz from the audiences will spark interest in the filmmaker’s dream.
Excellent Selection of Movies
During the Newport Beach Film Festival, I saw nine movies in 8 eight days. Each night, I would come home and tell my wife, that I saw two more excellent movies. She’ll ask, “are you saying that just because you’re working as press?” My response was always, “I know what you’re saying that, but the Film Festival programmers are choosing excellent movies.” While at the opening night screening of “Lovesick,” organizers of the festival discussed that fact that movies submitted for the festival are viewed at least five times by five different people.
Of the nine movies that I saw, I had a worst a tepid response to only one movie, which ironically was a big studio movie from England. The Newport Beach Film Festival went through a pain-staking process to make sure that the movie they screened where high quality movies. If you’re thinking about attending a film festival, look into the selection process. High scores to the Newport Beach Film Festival.
Exposure to New Types of Films
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a film snob. I really like big studio movies with A-List celebrities and lots of the special effects and action. By going to a film festival, I was forced to watch new types of movies. My selection process was very superficial. First, look at what celebrities are starring in the movie. Second, read the description and see if it’s interesting. That process did not work out well for me.
The Newport Beach Film Festival took place in five different locations throughout Newport beach and Costa Mesa. That means I have to plan a location to see the first movie and consider if I could make it to the next movie location fast enough by car. For two days, I was without a car, so I wound up using Lyft to get me to the next showing on time. (Thanks Lyft for getting me to screenings on time) Also, I have a day job, so I’m limited to nights and weekends to watch movies. I missed some movie just because I could not make the time work out.
All this to say that, convenience and invitation, was the reason I chose certain movies. As a member of the press, I received about twenty invitations to see specific movies. I saw three movies, “Follow Friday the Film,” “Down River,” and “Taking My Parents to Burning Man” for the sole reason, I was invited by the filmmakers. I then saw three other movies, “Break Point,” “The Love Punch” and “An Honest Liar” because they were at same theater.
This method of selecting movies exposed me to movies, I would not normally see. “Follow Friday the Film” was a documentary about the potential of Twitter to meet people. The dramatic movie “Down River” was about three women on the version of greatness or breaking down and “Taking My Parents to Burning Man” exposed me to an annual festival that I never heard of but have had significant conversations about since seeing the movie. Film festivals are for filmmakers who want to make movies about subjects that on the outset would not be considered commercial successes.
More Thoughtful Films
One thing that all, but one, of the movies, I saw at a film festival, had in common was they were a labor of love by someone. Whether it was the writer, actors, director or producer, someone had a story that needed to be told. They got support, raised money (commonly on Kickstarter or Indiegogo) and cashed in favors from friends to make their movie.
From left to right: Actor Gabrielle Miller as ‘Fawn’, actor Nancy Sivak as ‘Lili’, real-life restaurateur Peter and actor Tahmoh Penikett as ‘Chris’
You could sense the love and passion needed to get the movie made, and it showed. I remember when “Down River” started, I had no idea what to expect. Initially, I thought it was going to be another chick-flick-of-the-traveling-pants-type movie. During the first third of the movie (know that I would have to review the movie), I kept thinking, “What in the world is this movie about? How can I write a review about this?” but then all-of-a-sudden the movie came together, and three separate plots converged into a single spectacular ending. I walked in a skeptic and walked out an admirer of Ben Ratner as a writer/director.
Helping the Independent Filmmaker
By attending a film festival, you’re helping amazing films find an audience that these movies desperately deserve. On the outset, I did not know what “Down River” was and in the end, I remember thinking that movies like this deserve a bigger audience than what it got. If I said more about the Independent Filmmaker, I would be repeating what I wrote earlier about my exposure to a wide variety of films and film subjects, films about the passions of a single person and movies that need to be made, instead of a movie made to make money.
I lucked out by having the Newport Beach Film Festival be my first film festival. It was a well run festival with an exceptional selection of movies. I will recommend that if a film festival opens up near you, take a risk and check out the new movie and try something new.