Newport Beach Film Festival News and Notes

Random notes, observations and stuff plucked off the cutting room floor from the Newport Beach Film Festival, which runs through Thursday night.

The hierarchy of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is the main antagonist in Macky Alston's excellent documentary Love Free or Die, which is about the controversy that swirled around Gene Robinson becoming the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and first openly gay, non-celibate priest to rise to such a position in all of Christendom.

Coming in a close second as the movie's heavy (heh-heh) is Purpose Driven hater Rick Warren.

As the film that screened Friday at Fashion Island Cinemas and Tuesday at Triangle Square shows, when the debate within the Episcopal Church hit the mass media in 2003-04, the head of Lake Forest's Saddleback Church appeared as a talking head on news programs likening homosexuality to pedophilia. Of gay marriage, Warren said things like he would also oppose brothers and sisters being given the right to marry and, "We should not let 2 percent of the population change the definition of marriage."

Bishop Gene Robinson in Love Free or Die.
Bishop Gene Robinson in Love Free or Die.

Warren pops up again in the film to show the uproar that followed after Barack Obama chose the preacher to lead the invocation at the president's inauguration. Bowing to pressure, the new administration had Robinson give the invocation that kicked off inauguration weekend.

Orange County gets an even bigger closeup when Love Free or Die builds to the 2009 Episcopal Church General Convention at the Anaheim Convention Center, where up for vote was whether "gays and lesbians in lifelong committed relationships" should be ordained as ministers, and if bishops should be allowed to decide whether or not to bless same-sex marriages.

Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan, who attended seminary with Robinson, invited Warren to give a prayer to the breakaway movement of priests and lay people who wanted to defeat the measures. But thanks to lobbying by Robinson and others, the convention affirmed both. Overwhelmingly. As Robinson had said in a sermon in New York City on Gay Pride Day, "Some people look at what's going on out there as a nightmare. I think it's God's dream coming true, before our eyes."

*  *  *
Behind the Orange Curtain producer Zac Titus, executive producer Natalie Costa and director Brent Huff at NBFF opening night.
Behind the Orange Curtain producer Zac Titus, executive producer Natalie Costa and director Brent Huff at NBFF opening night.

On April 1, when Newport Beach Film Festival tickets went on sale, Wednesday's 8 p.m. world premiere screening of the documentary Behind the Orange Curtain quickly sold out, so a second showing was quickly added.

Then, that 8:15 p.m. Thursday presentation of the documentary about the prescription drug abuse epidemic among South County youth sold out as well, leading the festival to not only add a third screening but a fourth.

One is at 3:45 p.m. Thursday at Triangle Square, and the other is 8:30 that same night at Big Newport.

But guess what? They sold out, too.

"Everyone is just blown away," executive producer Natalie Costa says.

*  *  *

It was probably wise of the festival not to play

Behind the Orange Curtain

on a double bill with the feature

Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy


Based on another controversial book by the Scottish author of Trainspotting fame, Rob Heydon's trippy life and love drug-affirming movie follows a raver/drug mule who finds true love, true sorrow and true danger at roughly the same time. Played by Glasgow actor Adam Sinclair, Lloyd is surrounded by the colorful, hilarious and menacing characters Irvine Welsh is known for.

At Tuesday's repeat presentation at Island Cinemas (Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy's Friday Night Spotlight showing was at the Lido), an admittedly conflicted viewer asked Sinclair whether the first half of the film glorified drug use. Probably, the actor conceded, before leaning on something Welsh has said on the subject: he is reflecting what's going on in Scotland.

Adam Sinclair takes one for the team in Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy.
Adam Sinclair takes one for the team in Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy.

"Kids are out there every Friday and Saturday, having a good time," Sinclair said without apology. ". . . There are downsides and upsides, but it is happening in our culture. Should we be doing anything about it as a society? That's up to you to decide."

Randy Parsons, France bound.
Randy Parsons, France bound.

David Aldrich's short film Randy Parsons: American Luthier screened Monday at NBFF, but the documentary on the Seattle-based guitar maker for the likes of Jimmy Page, Joe Perry and Jack White is continuing on the festival circuit in a big way, being chosen for the American Pavilion program May 22-24 at the Cannes International Film Festival, as well as the Short Film Corner, Festival de Cannes.

Randy Parsons: American Luthier

has already entertained audiences at more than 20 film festivals across the U.S. Aldrich says he was inspired to make the doc after seeing Parsons, who had been setting up the filmmaker's guitars for years, in

Davis Guggenheim

's film

It Might Get Loud


"I had no idea that he was making guitars for Jack White, so I stopped by his shop and told him I wanted to shoot a short film about his work," Aldrich reports. "Luckily for me, he said yes."

*  *  *

Erin Gruwell, the teacher out of Newport Beach at the center of the documentary Stories of an Undeclared War, which rolled Sunday evening at Triangle Square, has been following the cases against the murderers of Armand Jones, a young actor who played a student in Hollywood's version of Gruwell's life story, Freedom Writers.

Her Freedom Writers Foundation keeps her popping around the country to help train teachers and students, but Gruwell has attended some hearings in the murder case, including sentencing last month.

"It was such a tragedy," she says before confiding, "I feel a little bit guilty."

She explained she and others lobbied the filmmakers to hire real kids, not child actors, to reflect the diversity of her classrooms at Wilson High in Long Beach.

"It was unheard of, but they wanted to go out and interview thouands of kids," Gruwell recalled. "They did not want a star from a Disney show or a dancer from a high school musical. Armand was one of those real kids they cast. He had a feel-good story, coming from a gang-infested area and pulling himself up by his bootstraps."

Gruwell has noticed all kinds of circles during the Freedom Writers experience, such as her coming from Newport Beach, working in Long Beach and then bringing her students back to Newport's Lido Theatre to see films like Hoop Dreams and Schindler's List--and now again to the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Sadly, another such circle was played out when Jones was gunned down in Orange County, outside an Anaheim restaurant to be exact.

"To be shot on the night they were celebrating that he just wrapped a movie is a tragedy," she says.

* * *
Archival footage in A Fierce Green Fire shows the Sierra Club's beginnings.
Archival footage in A Fierce Green Fire shows the Sierra Club's beginnings.

Mark Kitchell's documentary about the American environmental movement, A Fierce Green Fire, which I liked very much, was not actually completed when it screened Saturday at Triangle Square. In an email to supporters, Kitchell writes that "three tasks remain: licensing (and a bit of mastering) archival film and music; recording final narration [with] Robert Redford and four others. . . and a new ending, a call that features present-day activists."

Kitchell reports that $50,000 is needed for rights to film and music in the current cut. He's talking to the likes of Ashley Judd, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Leonardo DeCaprio about narration. His new ending will involve Kenyan Ikal Angelei, who just received the Goldman Prize; China's Dai Qing, who led opposition to the Three Gorges dam; Sarah Hodgdon, conservation director of the Sierra Club; David Braun and Iris Marie Bloom, anti-fracking activists; and Polly Higgins, the British barrister who's leading a campaign to make "ecocide" an international crime.

The veteran filmmaker is seeking donations "and a lot of buzz." Visit to find out more. And if you haven't seen it, see A Fierce Green Fire screens again at 5 p.m. Thursday at Triangle Square.

"People are loving the film," Kitchell writes. "Distribution is lining up. Important allies are joining us from philanthropic and environmental circles. It's looking like a big success and an important film that can do a lot of good. All we need to do is get it done!"

Bloody Wedding's Pason plays the stepsister of the bride.EXPAND
Bloody Wedding's Pason plays the stepsister of the bride.

If the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew re-teams to comment on an R-rated horror flick for a change, may we nominate the no-budget OC indie Bloody Wedding?

Filmed at Yosemite resort, the slasher oozed onto a Triangle Square screen Friday night for its world premiere. 

Bloody Wedding was written and produced by Patricia Sharkey, who moonlights as the full-time vice president of human resources at Greenlaw Partners in Newport Beach. Sharkey, Bruce Fordyce and Mike Merickel sold a film titled Homeless Joe to Troma Entertainment in 2010.

Robert Hoover, the Bloody Wedding director who doubles as a Dana Point bartender, had been the director of photography on Homeless Joe. His Bloody Wedding DP was Brad Harris.

By the way, Homeless Joe was filmed in Huntington Beach, Triangle Square and among the sewer pipes of Lake Forest (also the name of my new band). Some crew and cast members for that earlier project were plucked from Saddleback College. 

Bloody Wedding is about an average-looking young woman (Kate Murdoch) who snags what seems to be a handsome prince to marry by a lake. An unusual wedding party shows up for the nuptials. One guest is played by shapely OC local Tawny Amber Young, a Buffalo Wild Wings bartender who is considered the Sharkey Pictures' "Scream Queen." 

As for Sharkey, in addition to working full-time and writing and producing, she also catered and made wardrobe her movie.

"I love it," she says, "but I'm exhausted."

Here is the trailer:

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