One asterisk (*) next to a title indicates that film is highly recommended. All other descriptions are based on information provided by filmmakers and/or festival programmers.
A FIERCE GREEN FIRE *
The National Society of Film Critics named Mark Kitchell's Berkeley In the Sixties the Best Documentary of 1990; that film was also nominated for an Oscar. Fastforward two decades, and Kitchell has another excellent film that expertly blends period music, archival footage and reflective modern-day interviews. Broken up into five parts to reflect that many decades of eco-activism, A Fierce Green Fire covers the conservation movement that sprung up in the 1960s through today's global concerns about climate change, rainforest destruction and the need for a sustainable future. At Starlight Cinemas, April 28, 3:30 p.m.; May 3, 5 p.m.
THE ATOMIC STATES OF AMERICA
A "Nuclear Renaissance" was born in 2010 when the United States announced the first new nuclear-power-plant construction in more than 32 years. Then came the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent meltdown of the plant in Fukushima. With radiation from that event now turning up in kelp beds off the Orange County coast, this documentary from co-directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce could not be more timely. At Starlight Cinemas, April 29, 4 p.m.; at Island Cinemas, May 1, 4 p.m.
For complete details on all films, passes, individual tickets, theater locations and more, visit NewportBeachFilmFest.com.
FOR MORE ON THE FESTIVAL:
* 'Behind the Orange Curtain' describes how a prescription-drug 'epidemic' is killing local kids.
* 'Freedom Writers' muse Erin Gruwell brings her documentary 'Stories From an Undeclared War' back to her old stomping grounds.
From Canada comes director Deanne Foley's film of a headstrong teenage girl who wants to follow her father's footsteps into professional wrestling. Dad, who retired from the ring, objects, so his daughter turns to his bitter rival for guidance. At least she isn't on the pole, Papa. At Island Cinemas, April 27, 6:30 p.m.; at Starlight Cinemas, May 1, 3:30 p.m.
BITTER SEEDS *
Provocative Bay Area filmmaker Micha X. Peled completes his Globalization Trilogy (2005's China Blue and 2001's Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town) with this compelling documentary that makes the case that Monsanto is complicit in the suicides of farmers every half-hour in India. The focus is on a young woman and budding journalist whose farmer father killed himself and her uncle, another desperate cotton farmer. The American chemical giant's genetically modified seeds are at the root of evil in this heartbreaking, infuriating and all-too-common story. At Starlight Cinemas, April 28, 8 p.m.; at Island Cinemas, April 30, 4 p.m.
Writer/director Daniel Gillies stars and directs his wife, Rachael Leigh Cook, in this indie drama about the intersecting lives of two sets of people: a Hollywood writer and 14-year-old prostitute from Bogota, Colombia, and an LA day-care teacher and Colombian university student. The 2010 film makes its West Coast premiere here. At Island Cinemas, April 28, 8:15 p.m.; at Starlight Cinemas, May 1, 4:15 p.m.
5 BROKEN CAMERAS *
A Palestinian farmer attempts to chronicle his village's nonviolent resistance to the Israeli army and illegal settlements, but dang if soldiers or settlers don't keep breaking his cameras. Fortunately, Emad Burnat, who gets the co-directing credit for this documentary with Guy Davidi, manages to collect fascinating footage that is presented chronologically, in the order each camera was destroyed. Included are moments of family joy, a wife's concern that her husband/videographer will get himself killed and dubious shootings of unarmed Palestinians. At Island Cinemas, April 28, 4:30 p.m.; At Starlight Cinemas, April 30, 3:45 p.m.
Vincent Garenq's gritty look at real French injustice is told through the sad eyes of Alain Marécaux (Phillippe Torreton), a bailiff who, along with his wife and a dozen others, is falsely accused of raping kids. You feel an innocent's pain and share a nation's indignation. At Island Cinemas, April 29, 4 p.m.; May 2, 3:30 p.m.
Since the passing of Roy Disney, Don Hahn has taken over hosting the festival's popular Disney Rarities program, which returns for a fifth year. But the Oscar-nominated producer of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame also manages to work into the lineup a documentary of his own, such as 2010's Hand Held or this year's look at 11 injured war veterans who heal their emotional and physical wounds by scaling a Himalayan peak. At Starlight Cinemas, April 29, 6 p.m.
Director of Programming Erik Forssell is high on this Japanese Spotlight feature from Kore-eda Hirokazu, whose love story between a video store clerk and blow-up doll, Air Doll, was a hit at the 2010 festival. I Wish is about a 12-year-old boy who lives with his mother in one city devising a plan with his little brother who resides with his father in another town to magically reunite the family. "It's a touching look at children and divorce," Forssell says. At Big Newport, April 30, 7:30 p.m.
Mick, 11, sets off for a new foster home. Along the way, he encounters an ice dragon, owns a cat factory, befriends two brothers and falls in love for the first time. Martin Hogdahl and Håkan Bjerkings' Swedish fantasy is a Spotlight Film making its U.S. premiere. At Lido, May 1, 8:30 p.m.
Directors Paiman Kalayeh and John Lyons Murphy use Daniel Gillies' experiences as a first-time director (see Broken Kingdom, above) to flesh out the perils of independent filmmaking. Mark Ruffalo, Seth Green and Tim Roth also share their indie experiences. At Port Theatre, April 28, 5 p.m.
LAST CALL AT THE OASIS
Water plays a vital role in our daily lives so, naturally, we ignore it. We won't for long. Festival filmmaker alum Jessica Yu (2004's In the Realms of the Unreal and 2008's Ping Pong Playa) returns with an examination of the global water crisis featuring Erin Brockovich, UC Irvine Earth Science Systems professor James S. Famiglietti, and Macarthur Fellow and Pacific Institute co-founder Peter Gleick. At Starlight Cinemas, April 27, 6 p.m.; April 30, 5:45 p.m.
Amanda Salazar, the festival's associate director of programming, uses the words "amazing" and "bizarre" to describe George Jecel's Serbian feature about beautiful young dancer Tatjiana, who falls in love with a local gypsy boy and gets accepted to a prestigious dance academy—just as her father considers selling her to a gangster so he can open a restaurant. At Starlight Cinemas, April 30, 5:45 p.m.; at Island Cinemas, May 3, 3:15 pm.
LOVE FREE OR DIE
America's debate on gays in the clergy is played out through road trips Pastor Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the historic traditions of Christendom, makes to small towns, London's Lambeth Palace and even Orange County. At Island Cinemas, April 27, 4:30 p.m.; at Starlight Cinemas, May 1, 4 p.m.
Obsessed kids congregate where they can be themselves, Tannen's Magic Camp, in Judd Ehrlich's doc, making its world premiere. The kids discover winning the camp's prestigious competition requires more than just sleight of hand. At Starlight Cinemas, April 28, 3 p.m.; at Island Cinemas, May 3, 3:30 p.m.
MOSQUITA Y MARI
Max Naylor, the festival's senior programmer, steered me into Trollhunter, one of my favorite films at Newport last year, so when he says of Aurora Guerrero's feature drama making its world premiere, "This is my favorite film in the festival," my ears perk up. It follows two Latina teens in Highland Park who are on two different tracks: one to college, the other possibly to prison. They forge a friendship that turns into something deeper. At Starlight Cinemas, April 27, 5 p.m.; at Island Cinemas, May 2, 4 p.m.
This year's Korean Spotlight film is said to be gory, graphic and that country's answer to Saving Private Ryan. Director Kang Je-gyu presents two childhood friends who have been rivals because both want to be successful athletes and one is Korean and the other is Japanese. The two later find themselves on opposite sides of a World War II battlefield. Will the bonds of brotherhood save them? At Big Newport, April 30, 7:15 p.m.
ROBOT AND FRANK
Jake Schreier's feature was a favorite at Sundance, where veteran actor Frank Langella's performance was especially lauded. The story, set in the near future, involves the grown kids of a retired cat burglar getting him a humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. The old man has other plans for the box of bolts, however. At Island Cinemas, April 29, 8:30 p.m.; at Big Newport, May 3, 8 p.m.
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SEXY BABY *
This startling documentary follows a 12-year-old girl in Manhattan, a former porn star in Florida and a Georgia peach undergoing vaginal reconstruction. Sex, body issues and the allure of the va-jay-jay are handled graphically but tastefully by co-directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. You'll want to leave the kids at home for this West Coast premiere, but afterward, you'll be wondering what the hell they were up to while you were gone. At Island Cinemas, April 28, 6:15 p.m.
Writer/director Daniel Hsia's feature debut makes its world premiere as the festival's closing-night film and its Pacific Rim Spotlight feature. A New York attorney (Daniel Henney) engulfed in a business misadventure in Shanghai relies on a beautiful relocation specialist and her eclectic contacts to help him save his career, find love and become enamored with his foreign surroundings. At Lido, May 3, 7:30 p.m.
THE WAR AROUND US *
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, an American who now works for NBC News, and his colleague Sherine Tadros were the only Western reporters on the ground in the Gaza Strip when Isreal dropped bombs on Palestinians in 2008. A great look at war reporting, the documentary also shows firsthand what riled up the so-called "Irvine 11" at UC Irvine in February 2010. At Island Cinemas, April 29, 6 p.m.; May 3, 4 p.m.
This article appeared in print as "The Social Network: A curated sample of socially relevant offerings at the 2012 Newport Beach Film Festival."