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New and old combine at film festival

Newport's annual event will feature Matt LeBlanc-Chevy Chase comedy along with the 1959 Western "Rio Bravo" and other oldies. "Women Direct!" will spotlight work by female directors.

April 21, 2014|By Michael Miller and Rhea Mahbubani
  • Gregg Schwenk, left, and Todd Quartararo, co-founders of the Newport Beach Film Festival.
Gregg Schwenk, left, and Todd Quartararo, co-founders… (Francine Orr, Los…)

Fourteen years ago, a group of movie lovers banded together to organize the first Newport Beach Film Festival. For the opening-night attraction at Fashion Island, they chose "Sunset Blvd.," the 1950 Billy Wilder drama whose most famous moment features a faded Hollywood actress snapping, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small!"

As co-founder Todd Quartararo fretted outside the Edwards Big Newport 6 theater before showtime, though, he was more concerned about the size of the crowd than the size of the pictures.

"I remember, clear as day, standing at the edge of the red carpet wondering if anyone was going to show up," he said this month in the festival's cramped, bustling office near UC Irvine. "It's actually funny — 15 years later, I still think the same thing. Obviously, we have record crowds and we're bursting at the seams and very excited about that, but I think it helps to stay a little nervous because it keeps you alert and working hard."

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That first night, according to Quartararo, "Sunset Blvd." drew a full house, and the 2000 festival went on to show nearly 200 films at three Newport locations. As the festival prepares for its 15th go-round this year, the numbers tell part of the story of its growth: more than 300 films at seven theaters in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana as well as the namesake city.

This year's festival will run from April 24 to May 1, with the schedule ranging from features and documentaries to films by college students. "Lovesick," a new comedy starring Matt LeBlanc and Chevy Chase, will open the festival with a red-carpet premiere at the Big Newport.

As in past years, the program will dip into movie history. Howard Hawks' 1959 Western "Rio Bravo," starring longtime Newport resident John Wayne, will play April 26, while the Disney classic "Mary Poppins" will have a 50th-anniversary screening April 27. The following week will include a tribute to MacGillivray Freeman Films, the Laguna Beach-based studio that has produced more than 30 IMAX films.

New to the program is "Women Direct!", a series that spotlights work by female directors. Gregg Schwenk, the festival's chief executive and executive director, called the new offering a response to a trend.

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