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Port Theater to reopen for Newport Beach Film Festival

Organizers have made all the programming at the Corona del Mar venue free for the duration of the festival.

April 21, 2012|By Sarah Peters
  • The renovated Port Theatre in Corona del Mar will serve as a venue during the 2012 Newport Beach Film Festival. A sign company adds electricity to the sign above, in February.
The renovated Port Theatre in Corona del Mar will serve… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

After a 14-year dark spell, the remodeled Port Theater will reopen during this year's Newport Beach Film Festival with free screenings and seminars.

The theater in Corona del Mar will officially welcome the public back on Saturday with a seminar series titled, "Vision and Craft: The art of filmmaking," from 1 to 5 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. is the screening of "Kingdom Come," a documentary by first-time director Daniel Gillies.

"We are very excited and extremely proud to partner with the Port Theater and offer a unique selection of films and seminars," said Gregg Schwenk, the festival's chief executive. "The public can enjoy both the festival and the theater."

The buzz surrounding the reopening of the East Coast Highway venue, which closed in 1998, could contribute to increased ticket sales, but festival organizers said they decided to provide all of the programming at the Port for free for the duration of the festival.

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"We thought that this was an important opportunity to give back to community and we are hopeful that in the future, patrons and sponsors will underwrite these opportunities," Schwenk said.

The Orange County Film Society, which gave birth to the NBFF but remains its own entity, is interested in the possibility of using the theater for other screenings and events year-round, Schwenk said.

Few details are known, but the theater is reported to have undergone an interior remodel and have less, but more flexible, seating to accommodate events other than film screenings, according to Corona del Mar Today.

"The owner has done a tremendous job of restoring and reimagining the Port Theater," Schwenk said. "In a word, it's beautiful. It will be a true gift back to the community."

Port Theater owner Fariborz Maseeh, a Newport Beach resident, philanthropist and founder of the investment management firm Picoco LLC, has remained silent over the past several years about the restoration.

Interview requests left with his office were not returned this week.

In addition to the mystery around the Port Theater's new interior, others wonder how Maseeh will solve the building's past parking and traffic problems in that congested strip of Coast Highway.

"I think there will be challenges, but there are challenges created any time you have a new business opening up," said Bernie Svalstad, chairman of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District. "This site is a little unusual due to that the parking was grandfathered in because of the historical nature of the building to the city."

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