EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL
Hard to believe that it’s already been 20 years since the illustrious Newport Beach Film Festival made its debut in this tony beach community. While many festivals have come and gone, the Newport Beach Film Festival has proven to be a classic mainstay. And for those wondering how the Festival grew into a world renowned, international event, drawing over 55,000 attendees annually, well… It takes a village. That village, is the City of Newport Beach; not just the governing body, which came forth with overwhelming support, but also the business community, including Fashion Island and the restaurant and hotel communities. Even the residents, fueled with passion, came on board to serve on the executive team and volunteer. But one resident, Newport native Gregg Schwenk, was the consistent force behind this local feature presentation, which is now the largest film festival in Coastal Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
Joli Magazine: Tell us how you launched the Newport Beach Film Festival.
Gregg Schwenk: While serving on the Economic Development Committee, the idea of film festival in Newport Beach swirled around. So I sat down with the Mayor and City Council, the Conference of Visitors Bureau, and other major stakeholders of our city and everyone loved the concept. Next I approached Todd Quartararo, who had impressed me with his marketing skills and he got on board. Todd is our co-founder and a tremendous asset to the Festival.
JM: What was the first Newport Beach Film Festival like?
GS: It was very successful for an upstart festival. We paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of Sunset Boulevard and chose the Academy Award winning film as our premiere screening. Hollywood Film Producer A.C. Lyles attended and read a letter from the movie’s director Billy Wilder. It was a very special night. The festival screened 150 films that year.
JM: How did you get films for the festival during the early years?
GS: Todd and I leveraged our contacts in the industry to bring in films. Back then, limited internet capabilities and primitive technology existed. Submissions arrived on VHS tapes. Scheduling was done with sticky notes on a white board. We traveled to other festivals and film events to connect with filmmakers and distributors.
JM: How did you get funding to create an event of this magnitude?
GS: We have a large amount of local support. The City of Newport Beach allocates financial support. We also have businesses that recognize the value of aligning with the festival, such as Pacific Sales Kitchen and Home, Karma Automotive, Celebrity Cruise Lines, Experian and Compass Real Estate. Our audience profile is comprised of affluent, well-traveled, early adopters. Local venues help defray costs with in-kind sponsorship. Fashion Island hosts the opening night post party on their site. Hotel Fashion Island, Newport Beach Country Club, Balboa Bay Resort, Muldoon’s Irish Pub, Newport Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, Via Lido Plaza, Sherman Library & Gardens and Lido Marina Village are among the other generous partners that host prominent events. Over 70 local restaurants participate. Tito’s Handmade Vodka provides hosted bars. Most importantly, we have over 1,000 volunteers working behind the scenes and on the front lines. That’s a payroll value we could never afford. With all this support, we are able to screen 300 films each year, offer free seminars featuring film industry notables and host lavish post screening parties for networking, mingling, and an elevated cinematic experience.
JM: What is your favorite film ever screened at the festival?
GS: We have screened Oscar winning films, such as Crash, which was great. What festival wouldn’t want to premiere an Academy Award winner? However, my personal favorite screening was To Kill A Mockingbird. I love the classics, especially that one. And we had cast and film crew members in attendance. I am also proud of our screening of The Sting, where we had the largest cast reunion turn out. Like most film festivals, our focus is on independent films but we like to intersperse retrospective programming into the mix.
JM: What is your favorite part of the Newport Beach Film Festival?
GS: I get excited when filmmakers come up to tell me what a great time they had at the festival. Some of the filmmakers showcased their shorts as film students in the festival’s early days and now are back with successful feature films. That’s also very gratifying to see.
The Newport Beach Film Festival
is scheduled April 25 through May 2, 2019