A shout-out to New­port

Film fes­ti­val still has a fo­cus on the neigh­bor­hood

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES - By Michael Miller michael.miller@la­times.com

If Alexa Po­lar makes it in Hol­ly­wood, she may have a lo­cal bar­ber­shop to thank for it.

The direc­tor, whose mu­si­cal “Speakeasy to Me” will pre­miere at this year’s New­port Beach Film Fes­ti­val, sought an in­te­rior set­ting that would evoke the furtive wa­ter­ing holes of the Al Capone era. She found it at Haw­ley­wood’s, a Costa Mesa bar­ber shop whose back room — con­cealed, in clas­sic speak-easy fash­ion, be­hind a book­case — fea­tures a bar, a minia­ture stage and decor and mag­a­zines in­tended for the 18-and-older crowd.

“When you go in, it’s for men only,” said Po­lar, a West­min­ster res­i­dent. “It’s a bar­ber­shop, and then there’s a book­case, and you pull on one of the shelves and it opens. And there’s lit­er­ally an area for, like, a man cave.”

Po­lar, who be­gan “Speakeasy to Me” while study­ing film at Or­ange Coast Col­lege, rented out the space for a day and set to work cre­at­ing a pe­riod piece. With cine­matog­ra­pher Robin Pa­bello, she blacked out the walls and ceil­ing and hung a sparkly cur­tain. The stage played host to a flap­per dance num­ber, the small bar a meet­ing be­tween the film’s ro­man­tic leads.

When Po­lar’s film screens dur­ing the fes­ti­val’s OCC Shorts pro­gram on Sun­day, Haw­ley­wood’s co-owner Kathy Dang plans to at­tend, along with other bar­ber­shop staff. That’s partly be­cause “Speakeasy to Me” isn’t the only en­try at this year’s fes­ti­val to fea­ture Haw­ley­wood’s; fel­low OCC film­maker Matthew Guastella spot­lighted the shop as part of his short doc­u­men­tary, “Bar­ber­shop Tra­di­tions To­day.”

“We al­ways sup­port the New­port Beach Film Fes­ti­val,” Dang said. “It’s right in our stomp­ing grounds.”

The New­port fes­ti­val, now in its 16th year, is not just a lo­cal phe­nom­e­non. Film­mak­ers and at­ten­dees come from all over. Still, how­ever many trav­el­ers the an­nual event lures, it amounts to one thing for many lo­cals: the neigh­bor­hood film fes­ti­val. And part of the ex­cite­ment is see­ing them­selves and their re­gion on the big screen.

The hus­band-and-wife team of Ravi Kapoor and Meera Simhan shot parts of their teen com­edy “Miss In­dia Amer­ica” at Irvine High School and other area lo­ca­tions. For Simhan, who acts in the film and cowrote the screen­play, shoot­ing at the school sig­ni­fied a home­com­ing: She grad­u­ated from Irvine High years ago, and the film’s open­ing scene de­picts a com­mence­ment on the same field where she walked.

Kapoor, a first-time fea­ture direc­tor, said he aimed to cap­ture the re­gion’s look and am­bi­ence — how­ever ephemeral — with the look of the film.

“I think there’s def­i­nitely a sense of space and sun­ni­ness and bright­ness to Or­ange County,” he said. “That’s what I al­ways feel with Or­ange County. Or­ange County is a mixed area, but there’s just this sense of clean, open spa­ces and clar­ity. So we were try­ing to find that even in the color palettes of the film — that clar­ity and sun­shine.”

Ja­son Blalock, whose doc­u­men­tary “Saw­dust and Sand: The Art of Dou­glas Miller” will ap­pear on a short-film pro­gram, tracked a La­guna Beach artist who has pho­tographed his city’s res­i­dents for more than four decades. A La­guna Beach na­tive who now lives in Oak­land, Blalock re­ceived the in­spi­ra­tion for “Saw­dust” when he spot­ted him­self in a photo that Miller had taken years ago — and that one of Blalock’s friends had posted on Face­book.

Blalock con­tacted Miller and vis­ited La­guna four times to fol­low the artist on his cam­era rounds. When the La­guna Art Mu­seum hosted a pre­view screen­ing of “Saw­dust” in De­cem­ber, Blalock saw the ex­tent of Miller’s lo­cal fol­low­ing: About 300 spec­ta­tors packed the room.

“He’s a hero to many, ev­i­dently,” Blalock said.

The fes­ti­val also fea­tures films with wider am­bi­tions. This year’s kick­off se­lec­tion is “The Wa­ter Diviner,” Rus­sell Crowe’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, about the massacre of Aus­tralian troops in Gal­lipoli dur­ing World War I. (The film opens Fri­day.)

“It’s a fes­ti­val that’s grow­ing year af­ter year,” said So­phie Ni­co­laou, vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Main Street Films, whose drama “LaMotta: The Bronx Bull” will screen at New­port this year.

The fes­ti­val, which runs from Thurs­day to April 30, op­er­ates at seven Or­ange County venues, in­clud­ing the Or­ange County Mu­seum of Art and the pri­vate Sage Hill School. As in past years, the sched­ule will in­clude a Dis­ney rar­i­ties pro­gram on Sun­day; a cen­ten­nial trib­ute to Or­son Welles, who was born in 1915, is planned for the same day.

In ad­di­tion to OCC, the fes­ti­val taps the lo­cal film-school com­mu­nity with pro­grams from UCLA, USC, UC Irvine, the Or­ange County School of the Arts and oth­ers.

“It’s some­thing that the en­tire com­mu­nity can par­tic­i­pate in,” said Gregg Sch­wenk, the fes­ti­val’s CEO. “It truly has some­thing for ev­ery­one. If some­one has an in­ter­est or has al­ways won­dered what a film fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence is like, New­port is an ex­cel­lent place to try that out and see what ev­ery­one’s talk­ing about.”

Mark Rogers Warner Bros.

RUS­SELL CROWE’S “The Wa­ter Diviner” will open the New­port Beach Film Fes­ti­val on Thurs­day, but many lo­cals ap­pre­ci­ate the week­long event for the home­grown movies that use O.C. as a back­drop.

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