Think back to when you were 13—or, if you're 13, think back to now. Slurping life juice from mama's teat is a faded memory. Volcanic puss lumps are forming in places guaranteed to ruin your class picture. Hormones go jibbity-jibbity-jibbity because the opposite-sex-cooties plague is no more.
The Newport Beach Film Festival's 13th annual run opens Thursday, April 26, and like any 13-year-old, the cinestravaganza is starting to look beyond the playground to the big, bad world out there. After hanging out with a Rainbow Coalition of film-festival friends at Toronto, Sundance and even stuck-up Palm Springs, "Newps," as the cool kids call it, is now programming more documentaries and features about war, pollution, poverty, immigration and profound technological change than ever before. Many of the more than 400 films from 50 countries showing through May 3 in Newps and Costa Mesa involve youths coming of age.
"We're proud of what we've achieved in 13 years," says Gregg Schwenk, the festival's CEO and co-founder, at his busy offices across from John Wayne Airport. "We have built a reputation with filmmakers and studios. We have shown we have the ability to deliver, and that has given us greater access to films."
After the traditional red-carpet arrivals at Newport Center, Schwenk will officially open the 2012 festival in front of the Big Newport screen just before the scheduled 7:30 p.m., world-premiere screening of Jewtopia. Based on the off-Broadway smash hit of the same name and described as a Jewish My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Jewtopia follows a young Jewish American marrying another and dispensing advice to his gentile buddy who has the hots for a Jewish girl. Ivan Sergei, Joel David Moore, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jon Lovitz, Rita Wilson and Tom Arnold star.
As always, the opening-night gala blowout follows outdoors at Fashion Island with entertainment, Absolut vodka, tastings from 35 local restaurants, more Absolut, fashions, and make it a triple, bartender. More parties follow Spotlight films. The 2012 festival screens 16 world premieres (not counting those among the 180 short films), including the May 3 closer Shanghai Calling, which opens the 2012 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival seven nights later. It's about a New York attorney who finds himself embroiled in a business mess in Shanghai that a beautiful relocation specialist and her eclectic contacts help him unravel. Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe and Bill Paxton star in writer/director Daniel Hsia's feature debut. After the 7:30 p.m. Lido Theatre screening, a closing-night gala follows in Via Lido Plaza.
New this year is an "online festival," which posts digital versions of select motion pictures on the web, more repeat screenings for films that quickly sell out, and expanded final-night programming. Island Cinemas, which underwent remodeling last year, and the historic Port Theatre return as venues along with Big Newport, Lido Theatre, Starlight Cinemas of Triangle Square in Costa Mesa, the Newport Beach Public Library, Orange County Museum of Art, the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, and Sage Hill High School, home of a collegiate showcase. For complete details on all films, passes, individual tickets, theater locations and more, visit NewportBeachFilmFest.com.
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This article appeared in print as "Reel Life: The Newport Beach Film Festival seeks its place in a big, bad world."