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Newport Beach Festival will close with Letters to Juliet

Ranked by Portfolio.com as America's richest city, Newport Beach, Calif., can afford to throw a serious party. Newport Beach Film Festival is known to do just that, and even its Web site touts it as a "leading lifestyle" event. So revelers and cinemaphiles are primed for another Orange County-class fiesta this April 22 to 29.

Despite lingering economic challenges, NBFF Executive Director and CEO Gregg Schwenk hopes to build on last year's record attendance of 51,000 strong. Run almost entirely by volunteers, the Festival makes the most of what he touts as its "coastal resort setting, amazing community support and strong filmmaker participation."

The 11th NBFF will show more than 400 films from some 50 countries and host red carpet galas, yacht parties and filmmaker discussions.


Five Star Day holds the Opening Night slot. A romantic comedy starring Cam Gigandet and Jena Malone, it marks the directorial feature debut of Huntington Beach native Danny Buday, who also wrote and produced. The title refers to the protagonist's auspicious birthday horoscope, which turns out to be disastrously inaccurate.
Following the film's world premiere, the opening-night gala on Fashion Island will present specialties from 26 local restaurants, a fashion show and a performance of Mystère by Cirque du Soleil.

The Festival will close with Letters to Juliet, Gary Winikc's modern-day story of star-crossed lovers starring Amanda Seyfried, Gael García Bernal and Vanessa Redgrave. To culminate the week's celebrations, filmgoers will then head over to the closing-night party in the Via Lido Courtyard.

Festival rap surrounds a number of comedies, including Electra Luxx. The sequel to Sebastian Gutierrez' lippy Woman in Trouble tracks the existential crisis of its eponymous porn star, now facing motherhood. Carla Gugino, who is married to Gutierrez, stars alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Timothy Olyphant.
Parenthood and sex also play for laughs in Chris D'Arienzo's Barry Munday, whose titular character - played by Patrick Wilson - loses his testicles. Chloë Sevigny co-stars in this screen adaptation of Life is a Strange Place, a novel by Frank Turner Hollan.

For campy kicks, there's Suck. Featuring a cast of music legends from Iggy Pop (who plays an aging producer) and Alice Cooper (as a bartender) to Moby (a metal rocker), Rob Stefaniuk's vampire spoof may require stronger substance than popcorn to appreciate its aspiring band's quest for immortality and an album deal.

In an action sports lineup to rival Tribeca's, NBFF will kick off a half a dozen world premieres. Surfing culture comes under consideration in such documentaries as Nathan Apffel's essay on anti-commericalism, Lost Prophets-Search for the Collective; Ann Chatillon's Newport Beach remembrance, Living It Forever; and Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story, in which Brian Gillogly traces Malibu surfer-turned-cultural-phenomenon Kathy "Gidget" Kohner Zuckerman.

Non-fiction films also abound in a program exploring art, architecture and design. A highlight is Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, in which Tamra Davis looks back on the Lower East Side graffiti artist's cult mystique.

Family stories, shorts and productions by filmmakers from area colleges comprise other returning categories. The Festival also promises the annual harvest of world cinema, with seven titles from Russia.

Upholding a cherished tradition, NBFF will continue with its John Wayne retrospective, which was launched in 2007 to commemorate the actor's 100th birthday. A remastered, Blu-ray edition of The Stagecoach will serve this year's tribute screening.

Were the former Newport Beach resident still alive, he'd surely join other glitterati from nearby Hollywood who add to NBFF's twinkle without detracting from its folksy accessibility. 
For tickets and more information, visit www.newportbeachfilmfest.com.

By Laura Blum

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