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Stars to light up Newport

Newport Beach Film Festival's co-founders on Thursday night will celebrate the opening of its 13th annual event with the world premiere of 'Jewtopia.'

April 25, 2012|By Sarah Peters
  • Gregg Schwenk, left, and Todd Quartararo, co-founders of the Newport Beach Film Festival and Orange County Film Society.
Gregg Schwenk, left, and Todd Quartararo, co-founders… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

More than three decades before opening night of the 13th annual Newport Beach Film Festival at Edwards Big Newport, festival co-founder Todd Quartararo sat in the same packed theater, watching "Star Wars."

"It was incredible — here is a film that changed the landscape of filmmaking," he recalled of the experience back in 1977.

That palpable excitement of a full theater — more than 1,100 seats full — will be present again at Thursday night's world premiere of "Jewtopia."

The 7:30 p.m. screening of the feature film — starring Ivan Sergei, Joel David Moore and Jennifer Love Hewitt — will officially open the 2012 festival, which will run through May 3. The Daily Pilot is a sponsor.

With a sold-out opening-night crowd, high-profile celebrities, filmmakers and this year's addition of the Port Theater and Island Cinema as venues, the festival is expected to shatter last year's record attendance of 52,000.

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But it wasn't always so successful.

When Quartararo and co-founder Gregg Schwenk launched the first Newport Beach Film Festival in 2000, they staged it in the ballroom of the Newport Beach Marriott hotel. The first festival attracted 12,000 to 15,000 attendees.

"I remember standing out front on opening night and wondering if anyone was going to show up," Quartararo said with a laugh.

To date, about 4,000 films have been screened through the festival or its partner organizations: the Orange County Film Society, Cinema Orange at the Orange County Museum of Art, Movie Mondays at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Cinema Sage Hill.

"They have a very clear and multiplying passion for what they do," Gary Sherwin, chief executive of Visit Newport Inc., said of the festival's founders. "What they do is see themselves as custodians of a very valuable asset in the city."

Quartararo and Schwenk launched the Film Society in 2006 after festival attendance rose to more than 30,000 in 2005.

The co-founders aimed to bring the art of film to more than main circuit festival patrons and do it year-round.

"Film is the medium most accessible and readily accepted by the greatest segment of the population," Schwenk said. "Sadly, no one really asks, 'What is your favorite book?' People ask, 'What is your favorite movie?'"

The organization hosted a screening on March 20 of"Bully"and a screening on April 10 of"The Lucky One"— 10 days before the romanticdrama'srelease date. Both of the screenings were at the Regency Lido Theatre.

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