NBFF: Smaller, Shorter & Uncut

The fabled film festival has learned that less is more

The narrower window of screen time cut the number of full-length feature films from 167 last year to 120 for 2013, but to hear associate programming director Max Naylor tell it, that produced an unintended Easter egg: improved overall cinematic quality. Looking over the lineup, Salazar said she was struck by how the festival has returned to its indie-cinema-celebrating roots.

Not that it was easy. Staffers and volunteers who screen the thousands and thousands of submissions made it to April with scars from the battles they waged to ensure their favorite films made the cut. And they weren't always winning battles.

Dennis Baker, the director of short-film programming, says he and his minions cut back a thousand submissions to what they believed to be a solid slate of 280. They were then told to keep whittling. The list is now down to 176 shorts, but Baker confides many that were tossed would have easily made the cut in previous years. "It was very tough," he says, still shaking his head.

Riley Kern

Details

Visit newportbeachfilmfest.com for show times and more.

Don't worry, cinephiles. There will still be the same number of weekend Spotlight films and weekday international Spotlights and the Disney rarities and the Chuck Jones 'toons and Muppet movies and MacGillivray Freeman shorts and perhaps the best-ever John Wayne film (The Searchers), as well as the youth, high school and collegiate showcases; the seminars with industry insiders; the music-film series; the action-sports series; the art and architectural series; the environmental films­—and on and on. Though fewer, there will still be various shorts programs, but debuting this year are music videos through a new partnership with OC Music Awards.

And don't worry, hearty partiers. Reducing the number of overall screenings did not lead to scaling back the galas, Spotlight parties, other special events or the closing-night blowout.

It is, in other words, pretty much the same. Only less.

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Most years, the festival opened with a feature-length drama or comedy, but for 2013, we get director Doug Hamilton's documentary Broadway Idiot, which follows the four-years-in-the-making Great White Way musical based on neo-punk band Green Day's album American Idiot. There is now a touring production of the double Tony winner. (Speaking of Green Day albums, NBFF 2013 also includes as part of its music series ¡Cuatro!, Tim Wheeler's doc on the creation and recording of the band's musical trilogy Uno!, Dos! and Tre!)

Billie Joe Armstrong is expected on the red carpet before the film rolls April 25 at 7:30 p.m. (well, that's always the goal) at Edwards Big Newport in Newport Center. The opening-night gala afterward in the Fashion Island courtyard across the way won't feature a special performance by Armstrong, but instead his Bizarro World counterpart, Taylor Hicks. The oldest-looking American Idol winner's show is said to go down even more smoothly with complimentary Absolut Vodka with Stella chasers and of small-plate samplings from 35 Orange County restaurants.

Tickets to the opening-night screening and gala are a steep $175, and you have to be 21 to get into the party, which is $100 to enter if you blow off Broadway Idiot. For $500, you can get into everything through May 2 with an all-access pass. But there are plenty of more affordable options for us peons, too.

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Seeing the festival's Spotlight films is pricier than taking in non-Spotlight titles—$18 vs. $14—and each has a post-party that costs even more to enter. But the Spotlights also invariably sell out, and though you can find some selections further down the festival program that will blow your mind, Spotlights are usually (but not always) the better fest films.

It begins April 26 with the aforementioned What Maisie Knew, which Millennium Films opens in New York on May 3 and Los Angeles on May 17. There's also A Single Shot, which was directed by David M. Rosenthal (Janie Jones), from the novel and screenplay by Matthew F. Jones, and stars Sam Rockwell as a hunter who mistakenly kills a young beauty in the woods, finds a stash of money while hiding the body, and then plays armed cat-and-mouse with criminals out for his blood. In Security, a dark comedy directed by first-time feature helmers Evan and Adam Beamer from their script with Craig Hildebrand, features an intriguing cast (Cary Elwes, Ving Rhames, Ed Begley Jr., and Adam and Alan Arkin, included) and a premise filled with potential: owners of a failing home-security company burglarize houses to drum up more business. Writer/director Larry Brand's thriller The Girl On the Train follows a documentary filmmaker (Henry Ian Cusick) boarding a train bound for Upstate New York to interview the subjects of his newest project, but an encounter with a mysterious woman takes him on a stranger trip.

Someone picking festival films either has a thing for Jason Ritter or the actor works enough that he just happens to pop up in multiple NBFF selections this year and last; he's in the cast of the April 27 Spotlight film I Am I, writer/director/star Jocelyn Towne's drama about a young woman who meets her father at her mother's funeral and discovers he suffers from a disease that makes him so delusional he thinks he's still 33 and his daughter is his wife.

Director Rob Meltzer's previous gig in the chair was the short film I Am Stamos. His feature debut, from a script by first-timer Jeff Kauffmann, is the comedy Welcome to the Jungle, which has a character played by Jean-Claude Van Damme (yep, that one) leading a company retreat into the jungle, where things go quite awry. The cast includes not only the aforementioned Dennis Haysbert, but also solid comic actors Adam Brody, Rob Huebel and Kristen Schaal. First-time writer/director Josh Boone's Stuck In Love has a family of writers struggling with romance: The writer-blocked patriarch (Greg Kinnear) spies on his ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly) while getting some on the side with his married neighbor (Kristen Bell). His aspiring-writer daughter is trying to avoid love at all costs, while his wannabe-sci-fi writer son sets himself up for heartbreak. Rounding out the Saturday Spotlight program is The Iceman from director Ariel Vroman, who wrote the screenplay with Morgan Land, his co-writer on 2005's Rx. It's the story of true-life contract killer Richard Kuklinski (played by the amazing Michael Shannon), whose wife and kids had no clue what he was up to before he was arrested in 1986. Co-stars include Chris Evans, James Franco, Ray Liotta, Robert Davi, Winona Ryder and David Schwimmer, whom Salazar believes deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance. "We're very excited to play this," she says of the mob picture.

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