This Year's NBFF Offers Some Don't-Miss Debuts

This year's Newport Beach Film Festival schedule boasts an impressive array of independent documentaries and features that could be major Oscar contenders, so this is the chance to see them before their wide release. The opening-night lineup includes the West Coast premiere of one such film, the Green Day documentary Broadway Idiot. Four years in the making, the documentary follows the band members through individual highs and lows as they produce their first musical on Broadway, American Idiot, which went on to win numerous Tony Awards.

Speaking of music documentaries, In Your Dreams: Stevie Nicks, a self-directed effort by Nicks and music producer Dave Stewart, focuses on the two as they produce the Fleetwood Mac songstress' next solo album, also called In Your Dreams. Various camera formats capture the creative process and Nicks' personal life through exclusive interviews, creating a new visual portrait of the long-beloved singer and bewitching personality.

Highly recommended is the skate documentary The Signal Hill Speed Run. In the 1970s, Hang Glider magazine editor Jim O'Mahoney searched for a new, safer sport to focus on after realizing the dangers of hang gliding. Setting his sights on skateboarding, he starts the first Signal Hill Speed Run, taking place on a dangerously steep road in Signal Hill, which is surrounded by Long Beach. Daredevils who survived the drop would cement their names in the history of the race, which would come to earn a reputation as the most dangerous challenge skateboarders would ever face.

Among other documentaries to watch for are Out of Print, which focuses on the decline of printed book production after the advent of digital technology and e-books, and Youth of Yangon, a short film on the challenges young teenagers in Myanmar face as they search for the perfect skate park.

Brothers Adam and Evan Beamer bring their latest directorial venture, In Security, to the festival for the first Friday-night Spotlight. Best friends Kevin (Ethan Embry) and Bruce (Michael Gladis) own a fledgling home-security business struggling to stay afloat against a big corporate competitor and the challenges of location: They are in "the safest town in America." The duo decide that in order to turn business around, it's time to take action; they begin breaking into homes, prompting homeowners to hit them up for their services. The pair is able to evade suspicion from authorities and all goes well, until one heist victim turns out to be a ruthless drug lord (Cary Elwes).

Gladis is best known for his role on the hit AMC show Mad Men as Paul Kinsey, the ad man with an ambition for artistic fame. Here, he steals the show as Bruce, the overly passionate security salesman with a penchant for weapons and video games. Gladis' Bruce is somewhere between Jack Black slacker and nerd, but always a hilarious sidekick to Embry's straight man. Elwes has completely rid himself of his likeable, nice-guy image to turn into a creepy Christopher Walken-style villain. Clea Duvall is also spectacular as Lena, Kevin's clear-headed girlfriend. Smaller appearances by Ving Rhames, Alan Arkin, Jim O'Heir (from Parks and Recreation) and Ed Begley Jr. round out this fantastic cast.

The festival brings some international flavor through 11 Spotlight films in four nights, starting with the Irish spotlight film The O'Brien's, a film about a widower summoning his family together for an unexpected announcement. From Australia, Drift rides along with brothers Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) and Andy (Myles Pollard), who, after being abandoned by their mother, begin to develop their skills as surfers. Twelve years later, the family is deep in debt, and the brothers decide to venture into a surf-gear business. However, Jimmy's criminal past could prevent them from finally achieving the life they have always wanted. In Key of Life, the festival's Japanese Spotlight, depressed actor Sakurai meets a mysterious stranger who suffers amnesia after an accident. Taking advantage of the situation, Sakurai switches identities with the prosperous older man, not realizing he is actually a dangerous crime boss.

The final Spotlight film of the festival comes just in time for the upcoming Cinco de Mayo holiday. As part of the Latino showcase, Mexico's 5 de Mayo, La Batalla (May 5: The Battle) dramatizes the legendary battle between a small army of Mexican soldiers led by General Zaragoza against the French army in the town of Puebla. This film should be a great way to learn about the holiday's backstory, while the subsequent after- party allows for an early celebration.


 
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