Newport Beach Film Festival's Groovy Tunes

Bojana Sandic mostly helps put together the Newport Beach Film Festival's short films program, but she also has her hand in the music video lineup that my colleague Aimee Murillo previews, as well as the presentation of music-related documentaries.

Four of the latter you really should try to get out to see at the 16th annual festival, which runs Thursday to Thursday, April 23 to 30.

Austin to Boston, the latest from No Cameras Allowed director James Marcus Haney, is the ultimate road picture, following three U.K. bands (Ben Howard & Band, the Staves, and Bear's Den) and one from Denver, Colorado (Nathaniel Rateliff), that are crammed into five old VW vans for a jagged 3,000-mile “tour” from South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, to the penultimate gig in Boston, Massachusetts. Watching these modern-day folkies interact brings to mind the Laurel Canyon denizens of the 1960s. Screens at the Triangle, Tues., 5:15 p.m.; and at Island Cinemas, Wed., 8 p.m.

Highly recommended is Flory's Flame, which does to the nearly lost music of the pre-Inquisition Jews of Spain what Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder did with the nearly lost music of Cubans in The Buena Vista Social Club. Director Curt Fissel showcases 90-year-old Flory Jagoda, a composer, performer, and keeper of songs and lyrics passed down in her Sephardic Jewish family. Footage includes her triumphant September 2013 Celebration Concert at the U.S. Library of Congress. Screens at the Triangle, Sun., 11 a.m.; and at Island Cinemas, Tues., noon.

Another doc about the power of a music you may not know existed is Jim Brown's Free to Rock, which reveals that long before the Gipper told Gorby to “tear down this wall,” rock & rollers in the Soviet Union had been chipping away at it. Comic relief comes in if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em form from a pro-Soviet band that was manufactured just as the Monkees were. Screens at South Coast Village, Sat., 4:30 p.m.; and at Big Newport, Mon., 5:15 p.m.

Continuing the keeping-lost-music-alive theme is Charles Cohen's The Crooked Tune: An Old Time Fiddler in a Modern World. The subject is Dave Bing, a fiddler who not only plays Old Time American music, but he also teaches it to others, including U.K. and Irish fiddlers who are trying to tap into the sounds that started in their homeland, immigrated to the hills of West Virginia and mixed with black music. Screens at Island Cinemas, Thurs., April 30, 5 p.m.

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Jason Blalock grew up in Laguna Beach and always wanted to make a film there. He finally got his opportunity with the documentary short Sawdust and Sand: The Art of Douglas Miller.

Miller is a longtime local painter, musician and, as anyone who has seen him in the village with three cameras dangling around his neck knows, rabid street photographer. He has shot anybody, everybody and nobodies from Laguna's heyday as an art community in the 1970s through the post-Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County upper-crusty yuppitude of today.

He figures he has amassed 350,000 images, which is amazing when you consider he is also a prolific painter who has built and manned his own booth at the Sawdust Festival since nearly the beginning. Blalock has keenly crafted a documentary that is part profile, part history lesson and part comment on the gentrification that is taking the art out of the art colony. Screens as part of the Made in California shorts program, at Big Newport, Mon., 5 p.m.

Brandon Lied's full-length documentary The AC Project: To the Ends of the Earth does not play on a festival double bill with Sawdust and Sand but it could because Laguna Beach also plays a prominent role. That's where Ethan Matott and Doug Wekenman went after graduating from the University of Colorado in 2010 to work at Little Church By the Sea. While at the “evangelical-free” Christian church, the pair befriended Chapman University graduate Matt Fons and Ryan Wekenman, who went on to become a pastor at SeaCoast Grace Church in Cypress.

After a year in Laguna Beach, the four young men felt unfulfilled spiritually, so they took one last surf together, filled their suitcases with a year's worth of supplies and departed LAX to spend 2012 serving the poor around the world. The AC Project: To The Ends of The Earth follows the foursome to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Fiji, Australia, India, Uganda, Burundi, Zambia and South Africa. Their missions to provide earthquake relief, clean water and new lives for sex-trafficking victims also found the men finding faith, hope and new lives for themselves. They are scheduled to interact with the audience immediately after the NBFF screening. Screens at the Triangle, Sun., 2:30 p.m.

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