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Friday, September 30, 2022

Film Festivals Abound This Fall Throughout Orange County

By Richard Chang and Kristina GarciaSeptember 30, 2022

Jump To:

Oct. 1 – 15
Viet Film Fest

Oct. 6 – 9
Dome Fest West

Oct. 13 – 20
Newport Beach Film Festival

Oct. 13 – 23
OC Film Fiesta

Nov. 9 – 13
Coast Film & Music Festival

Autumn brings to mind cornucopias, and there’s certainly an abundant cornucopia of indie films and film festivals coming to Orange County this October.

The 13th edition of the Viet Film Fest kicks off virtually Saturday, with in-person screenings starting next Friday, Oct. 7. That fest runs through Oct. 15.

The second annual Dome Fest West at Orange Coast College’s Planetarium runs Oct. 6-9. The 13th annual OC Film Fiesta starts Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 23.

And the granddaddy of them all, the 23rd annual Newport Beach Film Festival, opens Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 20. 

Though they may have an embarrassment of riches on their hands, local film festival organizers insist that their offerings ought to complement each other, not crowd one another out of the marketplace – and out their audience’s time and head space. Here’s a look at what’s coming up.

Viet Film Fest

When: Oct. 1-15
Where: Century Huntington Beach and XD, 7777 Edinger Ave., Suite 170, Huntington Beach (Oct. 7 and 8) and online
Cost: $15 per screening (in person or online)

The Viet Film Fest, presented by the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association, canceled its 2020 program due to the pandemic, and offered a hybrid program in 2021, with some in-person screenings and some online through Eventive.

This year, the hybrid model will return, but the main venue has changed to the Century Huntington Beach and XD, with in-person screenings on Oct. 7 and 8.

“It is so exciting for us to bring the festival so close to Little Saigon in a new venue,” said Tran Lee, this year’s Viet Film Fest events director. “We have never been more than a few miles away from the heart of Little Saigon and a few streets down from key historical landmarks such as Asian Garden Mall. The festival will be at Century Theater Huntington Beach, a spacious and popular local theater with luxury seating and a large lobby area.”

By screening most films last year online in a movies-on-demand format, VFF organizers discovered that their audience expanded across the country and internationally as well. 

“Viewers were coming from across North America, a good handful coming from Europe as well,” said Eric Nong, artistic director of the festival. “They might not have otherwise flown to Southern California, so we want to keep that option for them. We still have our local roots, right? At the same time, let’s cater to the folks abroad.”

This year’s film fest had 66 submissions, and from that, a carefully selected selection of 12 features and 21 short films will make up the official lineup. Among the feature films, five are North American premieres, and five will be U.S. premieres. Films are coming in from Canada, France, Germany, Vietnam and of course, the U.S., with English subtitles available.  

The festival will open with “Maika – The Girl from Another Planet,” Ham Tran’s children-friendly sci-fi movie, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year and will only be screened in-person during the festival. The movie will be shown in the original Vietnamese, as well as with an English dub by a Vietnamese American cast.

Tran is known for his 2006 award-winning epic, “Journey From the Fall,” as well as for some other films made in Vietnam, such as 2017’s “She’s the Boss” and 2013’s “How to Fight in Six Inch Heels.”

The Viet Film Fest will continue to host free public screenings during Community Day. Curated for high school students, the theme this year is “Pulling Through,” which encourages its subjects to explore what it means to be themselves in the face of familial, personal and societal challenges. Many of the films in “Pulling Through” will be coming-of-age films, grappling with art, bullying, romance, tradition and self-acceptance.

Also part of Community Day is “Come Together,” a free short film program for seniors. “Come Together” will allow viewers to examine issues faced by Vietnamese adults – depicted in abstract, based on current events, and in strained familial relationships.

Another highlight will be the screening of “What About China?” a documentary by distinguished filmmaker and scholar Trinh T. Minh Ha. It will screen at 2 p.m. Oct. 8 at Century Huntington Beach and XD.

The Viet Film Fest will close with the U.S. premiere of “Blood Moon Party,” directed by Nguyen Quang Dung. It will screen at 8 p.m. Oct. 8 and online from Oct. 8-15. In the film, seven longtime friends get together for dinner and share with each other the contents of every text, email and phone call they have received.

Dome Fest West

When: Oct. 6-9
Where: Orange Coast College Planetarium, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa
Cost: $15-$325

Coming back for its second year at the OCC Planetarium, Dome Fest West expands the possibilities of film and entertainment as it utilizes the planetarium as a 360-degree film theater, transporting viewers beyond the typical rectangular screen. 

“The dome is like a portal into the metaverse or into virtual worlds,” said co-founder of Dome Fest West Ed Lantz. “The lights go down. The theater disappears. Recreate reality by mapping a pixel onto every nerve ending in your retina.”

This year’s festival and conference will be screening over 45 films/media shows and incorporating workshops, industry panels, parties and presentations for new technology. 

Dome Fest West prides itself in bringing together people from all around the filmmaking community, including local immersive content creators such as Marina del Rey artist and filmmaker Mikhaila Stettler.

Stettler submitted her film “Star Children In The Realm Of Unlimited Possibility,” which Stettler originally created as a VR experience from one of her 2D videos of her ephemeral sculptures  during her artist-in-residency at Enter The Metaverse 2021 conference. 

Stettler’s film is about unlimited possibilities featuring white, studded stars called star children who travel the universe and bring “joy, peace and star magic” wherever they go. With an original score, sound design and spoken-word narrative, the film dives into a miniature world created in a sand tray utilizing different textures and vibrant colors. 

“Full dome films 360 cinema is not just for science astronomy planetarium films anymore, it’s the new wave,” Stettler said. “And (Orange County) happens to have, at OCC, one of the best planetariums in the country. So I would really encourage people who live locally to take advantage and come to the film festival and see what’s going on.”

Highlights Include:

  • “Lands of the Americas,” produced by Pascal Pelletier and directed by Patrick Bossé. a “road movie” that celebrates the life and the 60 years of artistic work by multidisciplinary artist René Derouin. The plot connects Derouin’s artistic creations with the essential places of his journey. 
  • “Last Whispers,” produced and directed by Lena Herzog, wife of renowned German filmmaker Werner Herzog. The film addresses the disappearance of various indigenous languages, bringing awareness to the rapid and mass extinction of these languages. 
  • “Bébé Symphonique,” produced by Nicolas Lemieux, Isabelle Painchaud and directed by Marcella Grimaux. Made for young audience members (birth to 18 months) and their parents, “Bébé Symphonique” combines 2D, 3D and frame-by-frame animation to bring its viewers a world of colors, shapes and textures. The show moves to the rhythm of the album “Bébé Symphonique,” performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Newport Beach Film Festival

When: Oct. 13-20
Where: The Lot at Fashion Island, Edwards Big Newport, the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar and Starlight Triangle Cinemas in Costa Mesa
Cost: Opening night is $275, includes gala; closing night is $145, includes gala; standard tickets are $15 before 5 p.m. and $20 after 5 p.m.; spotlight films are $50 (includes after-party)

The 23rd annual Newport Beach Film Festival – which has been growing in reputation, sponsor participation and size – is returning for a second post-pandemic year to in-person screening and gatherings. This year’s fest will showcase more than 350 films from around the world, including several world premieres, red-carpet galas and Q&As with filmmakers.  

Highlights will include Festival Honors celebrating Variety’s “10 Actors to Watch,” international spotlight events, and specially themed programs (action sports; art, architecture and design; culinary; environmental; family and music films).

The festival will open Thursday, Oct. 13, with an eight-day run of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson and others. Fresh from the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness category, “Weird” will screen at 7 p.m. at Edwards Big Newport. Directed by Eric Appel and written by Appel and Yankovic, “Weird” tells the unexaggerated true story of the most successful parody rock musician of our time.

Following the premiere of “Weird,” Fashion Island will once again host the Opening Night Gala, featuring samples from more than two dozen of the area’s top restaurants, along with a hosted bar. Guests will get to see a sneak peek performance from the Broadway production of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”

The closing film on Thursday, Oct. 20 will be “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” a sequel to “Knives Out” written and directed by Rian Johnson and starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Kate Hudson, Madelyn Cline and Dave Bautista. “Glass Onion” will screen at 7:45 p.m. at the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar.

In contrast to previous years, when the final gala followed the film, the Closing Night Gala will occur before the closing film at Sherman Library & Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. Attendees will get to enjoy culinary creations by 608 Dahlia and other local restaurants, along with a hosted bar and live entertainment.

“The Newport Beach Film Festival is thrilled to bookend this year’s edition with two incredible films that feature stellar talent and remarkable storytelling,” said Gregg Schwenk, CEO and executive director of NBFF. “We are proud to bring outstanding global cinema and compelling filmmaker conversations to Southern California. This year’s program is the strongest in our 23-year history.”

Films will screen at four Orange County venues: The Lot at Fashion Island, Edwards Big Newport, the New Port Theater and Starlight Triangle Cinemas in Costa Mesa. Locally created productions include “Big Wave Guardians: First Responders of the Sea,” “Buying Her,” “The Friendship,” “The Human Trial,” “Humanity Stoked,” “Sound of the Surf” and “Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying.”

OC Film Fiesta

When: Oct. 13-23
Where: Online and in person at Tele Visions & Giga Bytes (TVGB) Center, 1666 N. Main St., Santa Ana, and other Orange County venues
Cost: $50-$75

Attendees of the OC Film Fiesta outside of The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana. Credit: Photo courtesy of the OC Film Fiesta

The 13th annual OC Film Fiesta, presented by Media Arts Santa Ana, returns this year, offering virtual and in-person screenings with 50 films and counting as organizers finish rounding out the lineup. The festival covers a wide cultural and geographical range with this year’s selections, with films from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Spain, Italy, India, Brazil, Portugal, Tunisia and Iran. 

“We’re a cinematic celebration of Orange County and the nation’s diversity and multicultural heritage. And this year’s films really reflect that,” said OC Film Fiesta founder Victor Payan. “And (we’re) including the diversity of Orange County.”

Not only are global films going to be featured, but also local films from high school and Chapman University film students, filmmakers who were raised in Orange County, and some who currently reside in the county, such as Sripal Sama, a filmmaker from Irvine. 

Sama describes his film “How’s That for a Monday?” as a reflection of the “craziness” that has happened and continued to exacerbate since the pandemic, such as the health and economic crisis.

“It doesn’t directly talk about those (topics), but it’s a reflection of this craziness. A fictitious story on this craziness,” Sama said. 

The Irvine filmmaker shot scenes across cities in Orange County, such as Irvine, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Mission Viejo. 

Sama said he’s been waiting for in-person film festivals to come back since the pandemic and feels “absolutely great” to be back.  “That’s the thing most filmmakers look for — to watch your movie on a big screen with an audience and see how it feels, how everyone is feeling. So, it’s absolutely great.” 

When new spaces in Orange County opened up for their first year, the OC Film Fiesta highlighted those venues by using them as screening spaces like the Frida Cinema in 2015, the Bowers Museum in 2016, the Heritage Museum of Orange County in 2017, and the O.C. Museum of Art (Expand) in Santa Ana in 2019 to name a few. 

Now the OC Film Fiesta will be spotlighting its own space, MASA’s Tele Visions & Giga Bytes (TVGB) center, which recently opened its doors in June in Santa Ana. 

“It’s about having screenings there, but also letting people know that we’re there as a year around facility for screenings, discussions, workshops, filming — as a community media arts space,” Payan said.

TVGB was created to be a digital art space for the community, addressing the digital divide and using the space as an outlet for Santa Ana and Orange County residents.  

As for the other venues for the festival, those screening spaces are still being lined up and will be updated on the website once available. 

Accessibility is a primary goal for MASA and OC Film Fiesta; with that in mind, tickets will be about $1 per film in the grand scheme of ticket prices. 

“It’s very important to us to be accessible,” Payan said. “Film should be a democratizing medium for our communities to get together to express their dreams and desires and needs. And a lot of times, it’s really prohibitively expensive to take a family to a movie.”

But accessibility also comes in the form of how attendees can watch the films by utilizing virtual screenings. These screenings are great for those who may not have transportation or, as a national festival, for people who might be geographically far away, Payan said. 

“It really is a way to introduce these audiences to these filmmakers, and hopefully to create a national dialogue,” Payan said. “The films really do inspire people to want to make films, but also to want to engage in their society more fully.”

With other film festivals occurring around the same time, Payan said it’s great for the community because they can choose from various film festivals, noting that each festival has its own vision and focus. 

“I think it’s really great that if you love films, you have such a wide diversity of offerings to enjoy. They’re all integral to their communities, not only ethnic communities but geographical communities. The cultural dialogue that is created by having all of them happen at the same time really amplifies the work that we’re all doing individually,” he said. 

Coast Film & Music Festival

When: Nov. 9-13 in-person and online Nov. 16-27
Where: Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
Cost: $25-$475

Posters for the Coast Film and Music Festival line the wall at the Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach, the outdoor venue uses to show this festival’s films. Credit: Photo courtesy of Coast Film and Music Festival

Though it occurs in November, the Coast Film & Music Festival, celebrating its fourth year, is worth mentioning in the context of all the film festivals happening in O.C. this fall. 

When Coast Film Festival founder Ben Warner was a kid, he remembers watching films by American ski and snowboarding filmmaker Warren A. Miller. After the movie was over, athletes from the film stuck around, and Warner would get posters signed by them to hang up in his room. 

“I’d watch the movies until the next year, and it became an obsession of mine to want to live that life like they do,” Warner said. “It doesn’t mean any of our global customers or attendees are going to become professional athletes, but they certainly dream and we can help connect them to those dreams.”

It was the combination of these films and interactions that Warner said “changed my life,” a sentiment he wanted to replicate at his festival. 

“This film festival’s vision is to bring the outdoors world to the beach, and connect the outdoor culture with the ocean culture, and use the power of film to connect people and inspire positive change,” he said. 

The festival replaces the traditional dark theater that most film festivals are used to and instead uses a large outside stage seating about 400 people for audiences to take in the beauty of the films and the environment surrounding them. 

There will also be two indoor theaters: the Forum Theater on the Festival of Arts grounds and a 230-seat theater.

This year attendees can expect screenings, speaker panels and the opportunity for attendees to socialize with filmmakers, athletes and changemakers. 

“What we love is to find the nuggets of great stories by filmmakers that nobody’s heard about before, and help discover them and put the spotlight on them,” Warner said. 

In the spirit of discovering up-and-coming filmmakers, the Coast Film Festival also added a new category this year for student filmmakers from grades 6 through 12. 

As a 30-year Laguna Beach resident, Warner wanted to bring a film festival to Laguna Beach, an area known for its history of conservation and art — but not just for the sake of having a local film festival. 

Warner said he saw an opportunity with Laguna Beach to do a film festival centered around adventure and the outdoor space, a theme that is a refreshing take compared to other film festivals in Orange County and Southern California. 

With its focus on the outdoors, a portion of the festival’s proceeds will be donated to local and national nonprofits, including 1% for the Planet, Surfrider Foundation, Protect Our Winters, Laguna Canyon Foundation, and the festival’s own nonprofit Coast Film Foundation.

“If you’re really going to go out and enjoy all these places, you have to have a certain level of respect and responsibility to you,” Warner said. “We really try to empower people by highlighting and promoting these important stories. And I think people make their own decisions. That’s our role is to entertain, inform and inspire.”

Highlights include:

  • In celebration of the 50th anniversary of award-winning documentary filmmaker Greg MacGillivray’s “Five Summer Stories,” Coast Film Fest will be screening the movie and breaking it up in chapters. The band that played the live music for the film 50 years ago will be joining the screening this time around and play alongside each chapter of the movie. 
  • An art exhibit with about 30 to 40 curated artists focused on surf and outdoor art. 
  • Attendees are invited to jam out with DJs at a free silent disco for those who want to veer away from the movies for a while.
  • A social area with a bar and place for people to lounge, drink, socialize and still watch the films from where they are standing.

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams