'The Signal Hill Speed Run'
'The Signal Hill Speed Run'

Local Films Get Their Due at NBFF

I haven't seen any of the locally made or -tinged Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) entries I'm about to throw down, but don't let that stop you from checking them out. Some have stories about their making that sound worthy of turning into their own films

Take Cherie Kerr's zany first film, We've Got Balls, making its world premiere during the 14th NBFF, which runs April 26 to May 2. She's the founder of the Orange County Crazies comedy-improvisation troupe and one of the original Groundlings of Los Angeles. She's also the mother of Drake Doremus, whose first full-length feature, Spooner, followed its Slamdance world premiere with a slot at NBFF 2009, as his follow-up Douchebag did at NBFF 2010 after miraculously making the U.S. Dramatic competition shortlist at Sundance 2010. (Doremus claimed that prize in 2011 with Like Crazy, and his latest, Breathe In, won worldwide theatrical distribution shortly after playing Sundance last January.)

The plot thickens: We've Got Balls—think David vs. Goliath if Goliath were a greedy developer and David an Everyman trying to save a small-town bowling alley—stars Andrew Dickler, the Spooner editor who was tapped to play the lead in Douchebag, his first acting gig. Give it up to the guy: He really did convince you he was a douchebag in that flick. This time, Dickler's stepping into the role of hero (or would-be hero—don't want to give anything away).


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Filmed at Fountain Bowl in Fountain Valley and locations nearby, We've Got Balls is, according to Kerr, "a quirky comedy that imparts a tender message." Amanda Salazar, the NBFF programming director con-Kerrs: "It's a charming little film," she told me. "We're really excited about it."

"Very cool for Cherie," reacted Ben York Jones, when asked what he thinks of Kerr's film getting a NBFF nod. "She's done a lot for the world of comedy and the arts in OC, and that she continues to expand her reach makes me really happy."

As a young teen, Jones worked with Doremus on original youth-theater productions in the OC Crazies theater space in Santa Ana. They also made short films they'd later project onto a wall of the Corona del Mar home of Jones' grandparents for potential "investors" so they could cover festival entry fees. Doremus later went off to the American Film Institute in LA and Jones to the Chapman University film school. They later reunited, with Jones essentially being an extra on Spooner, playing the co-lead little bro in Douchebag, and co-writing with the director Like Crazy and Breathe In.

Jones also directed music videos in Los Angeles with a fellow film-school classmate, Joseph Armario. He was a producer on Armario's 11-minute film NSFW, which plays before the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply at NBFF 2013. NSFW is about 12 people unwittingly divulging their addictions on their mobile devices and the Internet before a visionary hacker untethers them all at once.

"Playing NBFF is a homecoming for both of us," says Jones, who now resides in Echo Park. "I can't wait to be home for it. I'll be wearing my Ducks jersey all festival long."

Another Chapman alum who shot a full-length feature in Orange County picked up by NBFF programmers is Doug Penikas. In Blood Type: Unknown, a college freshman wants to write novels, but her parents are pushing her to follow daddy's footsteps and become an accountant. After getting in a heated discussion during her creative-writing class with a popular bad boy, her life changes forever. Seems the chap is much, much older than he appears.

As much as I want to check out We've Got Balls, NSFW and Blood Type: Unknown—watch what comes back when you type that into a search engine—the film with local goodness that really has me psyched is action-sports entry The Signal Hill Speed Run. Jon Carnoy and Michael Horelick's new documentary focuses on the short-lived, annual, Long Beach-adjacent event that drew crowds of more than 5,000 people and national television coverage from 1975 to '78. Egged on by the Guinness World Records TV show, skateboard promoter James O'Mahoney found daredevils willing to hurl themselves down a steep street track—until one stuntwoman nearly died in a 60 mph crash. How is this for local ties? The 1975 champion, Guy Grundy, grew up in Huntington Beach, where '77 champ Dave Dillberg rode the pier surf breaks after returning from Vietnam. Roger Williams, the '78 crown winner, also lived in Huntington Beach. Racer Herb Spitzer is from Anaheim Hills, which is where many competitors practiced, including Chuy Madrigal.

Because Orange County is a mecca for action sports, you tend to find local hooks in many of the festival entries in that category. Newport Beach resident and big-wave surfing champion Peter Mel appears in Joshua Pomer's new documentary, Discovering Mavericks, about the pioneering riders of the legendary Bay Area break, while Costa Mesa action-sports lifestyle magazine What Youth and the like-minded San Diego-based brand Reef present Kai Neville and Victor Pakpour's Anything Sing, which allows Luke Davis, Nick Rozsa, Conner Coffin, Mick Fanning, Beau Foster, Ford Archbold and Shane Dorian to truly express themselves. Gnarly.

From action sports, you can run counter to a sport with action thanks to Randy Hamilton's Touchdown Newport, which shows how 26 years of football futility ended at Newport Harbor High School with the arrival of coach Ernie Johnson. Members of Johnson's 1970 squad, coaches and cheerleaders return to revel in their glory days as Sailors. By the way, did I mention NBFF chief executive Gregg Schwenk is a Sailor? His programmers made sure to tell me.

Touchdown Newport screens with What It Takes, Rick Davitt and Mark Powell's documentary on the water-polo program at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. How does the coach follow four consecutive state championships, an undefeated season and two team captains graduating? By sending his young players off for U.S. Navy SEAL leadership training. (Pity the opposing player who resembles bin Laden.)



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