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Newport Beach Film Fest CEO Gregg Schwenk on the “over-abundance of Irish talent”
22 Apr 2016 : Seán Brosnan
‘Love and Friendship’ and ‘My Name is Emily’ will both screen at Newport this year
With the international spotlight very much on Ireland over the past year following the success of Irish films ‘Room’ and ‘Brooklyn’, there was one festival that arrived early to the party – 17 years early in fact.

The Newport Beach Film Festival, currently taking place in Southern California (April 21-28), is once again hosting their Irish Spotlight with special events this year surrounding Simon Fitzmaurice’s endearing and IFTA-nominated ‘My Name is Emily’, Whit Stillman’s period drama ‘Love & Friendship’ and Mark Noonan’s critically acclaimed ‘You’re Ugly Too’, starring Aiden Gillen.

Speaking to IFTN ahead of the Spotlight this Sunday, April 24th, CEO Gregg Schwenk said: “Since our founding 17 years ago, we have had a special interest in promoting Irish film.”

When pressed on why a festival in Southern California, over 8,000 kilometres away from our small island, would take such an interest in Irish film, Schwenk added: “We are always looking for quality film. That is the strongest mandate we have and Ireland happens to produce an over-abundance of extremely well-made and thoughtful films.”

Schwenk has also become very familiar with Irish filmmakers in recent years as he has been on the shorts jury of the annual Galway Film Fleadh. “By going there, I am able to meet and talk with Irish filmmakers and see some amazing Irish films”, says Schwenk, who also attended ADIFF this year. “It also allows me to get a much clearer understanding about the depth of Irish talent both in front of and behind the camera. This really gives us a head-start in the process of programming our Irish Spotlight.”

The Newport Beach Film Festival also has an affiliation with the Richard Harris International Film Festival in Limerick, whereby the Short Film winner of that festival (the winner of the 2015 fest was Aidan Gibson's ‘Woman of the House’) is automatically included in the Irish Short Programme of Newport – an honour that becomes all the more impressive after Schwenk explains to us the meticulous approach he and his team have to their submission process.

“The process for inclusion in the festival overall means that every submitted film is reviewed at minimum five times in its entirety before a decision is made. I don’t know any other festival in the world that spends so much time and effort in reviewing, discussing, deliberating their submitted films so that we can get the best films for our audience here in Southern California.”

3,300 films were reviewed overall in 2016 for the 350 approximate films that made it into the festival. Schwenk states that he has seen a “steady increase” of Irish submissions over the past few years. This year’s fest will also include the Irish Film Board’s acclaimed After 16 shorts.

“We are very honoured to be able to screen all those films. It is their premiere here on the West Coast and I am so excited to be able to partner with the Irish Film Board in allowing those films to shine in Southern California.”

Speaking of Southern California, how does the local audience take to the Irish Spotlight every year?

“Every year, our Irish Spotlight sells out. Last year, we had our first focused Irish Shorts Programme and we had to turn scores of people away. We put it into a bigger theatre this year. There is a very strong interest in Irish film and again I put that down to the very strong quality of Irish filmmaking. That’s what draws people to it. They know they are going to have an amazing experience and a great story.”

“We want to continue to put a spotlight on Irish film and grow our programme in the future.”

BS Visit the Newport Beach Film Festival Website for tickets and updates

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