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The Orange County Film Festival Season Begins

A scene from “100 Ways to Cross the Border,” a documentary following the life of artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña. This film will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the TVGB Digital Maker Space in Santa Ana during the 2023 OC Film Fiesta. Image courtesy of OC Film Fiesta

Film lovers in Orange County will have no shortage of celebration, entertainment and enlightenment this month as three major local film festivals open to the public, plus one more opening in November.


The 14th edition of Viet Film Fest includes in-person screenings this weekend and virtual screenings of the films available until Oct. 15.

When: Virtual from Sept. 30 - Oct. 15; in person on Oct. 6 and 7

Where: The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana

Cost: $16 general admission; $14 for seniors and high school students; $18 for general admission on opening night; $16 for high school students on opening night; seniors free for opening night; $18 for general admission on closing night; $16 for seniors and high school students on closing night; $250 for festival pass.



The 14th annual OC Film Fiesta includes both in-person and virtual screenings.

When: Oct. 12-29

Where: AMC Orange 30 in Orange; TVGB Digital Maker Space in Santa Ana

Cost: General screenings free to $10; $75 for festival pass



The 24th annual Newport Beach Film Festival includes a variety of in-person events.

When: Oct. 12-19

Where: Newport Beach: The Lot, Edwards Big Newport, Fashion Island, VEA, Lido Marina Village, Sherman Library & Gardens, Balboa Bay Resort; Costa Mesa: Triangle Cinemas, Time Nightclub; Corona del Mar: The New Port Theater

Cost: General screenings starting at $15; Opening night film and party $250



The fifth annual Coast Film and Music Festival will take place in Laguna Beach.

When: Nov. 8-12

Where: Festival of Arts, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Cost: Single-day tickets starting at $35; 4-day festival pass for general admission for $148


While many viewers seek film to escape everyday life, these upcoming festivals aim to spotlight the meaning of real-life stories about protecting the environment, surviving war, reconciling familial and generational differences, preserving culture, and much more.

Each festival will feature a robust lineup of films that likely won't be seen anywhere else.

“It’s not Netflix or Hollywood,” said Victor Payan, executive director of Media Arts Santa Ana (MASA), the community-based digital arts organization that produces OC Film Fiesta. “These are the works of independent filmmakers from different cultural communities. It’s an amazing film experience and a celebration of humanity.”

Here’s what to expect:

Viet Film Fest

In its history, Viet Film Fest has a rich tradition of celebrating Vietnamese faces in front of the camera as well as behind it.

All films submitted for consideration at the festival are either made by individuals of Vietnamese descent, feature the Vietnamese community, or touch upon issues that are relevant to them. Many works to be presented in Viet Film Fest will come from local filmmakers.

“Orange County has the largest Viet population outside Vietnam,” said Eric Nong, artistic director for the Viet Film Fest. “We want to keep (the festival’s) roots beholden to O.C. itself to really keep that local flavor.”

A prime example of this is one of the festival’s closing features, “The Accidental Getaway Driver,” directed by Sing J. Lee. The film tells an intergenerational story of a former ARVN officer who now works as a taxi driver and unknowingly accepts a ride request from three men who have just escaped from jail. Much of the film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, was shot in OC’s Little Saigon.

A scene from “The Accidental Getaway Driver,” a drama starring Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, Dustin Nguyễn, Phi Vũ and Dali Benssalah. This film will be screened 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana during the 2023 Viet Film Fest. Image courtesy of Viet Film Fest

Other festival screenings include:

  • “Spring Roll Dream” from director and animator Mai Vu. The short film, which was shown at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, explores the family dynamic of a three-generation household, where a single mother who has built a stable life in the U.S. with her son must host a visit from her father from Vietnam.

  • A screening and panel discussion for “Refuge After War,” directed by Thanh Tan. The nonfiction film examines the similar experiences of Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and Afghan refugees after the fall of Kabul in 2021, plus the collaboration from the Vietnamese community as Afghan refugees sought asylum in the United States. The panel will offer an update on where the Afghan refugees featured in the film are today.

  • A world premiere of “Angels” directed by Lưu Huỳnh. The feature film tells the story of a young daughter searching for her mother, who was forcibly committed to an underfunded psychiatric hospital.

A scene from “Refuge After War,” a film on the shared experiences between Vietnamese and Afghan refugees. This film will be screened 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana during the 2023 Viet Film Fest. Image courtesy of Viet Film Fest

OC Film Fiesta

This year’s OC Film Fiesta will hold both in-person and virtual screenings for more than 60 films.

When the festival went completely virtual in 2020, organizers decided to keep the virtual screenings in the following years after seeing how the online offering allowed them to connect with audiences across the country.

“We show films that the arts community is really passionate about,” Payan said. “We saw people in Texas, Denver, New York City and other places who had been wanting to come to the festival for years and now they can finally go.”

Meanwhile, this year’s in-person screenings will take place at MASA’s new arts space, the TVGB Digital Makers Space, located at 1666 N. Main St. in Santa Ana, as well as other venues in Orange County (such as AMC Orange 30). The space, Payan said, will be a way for engaging discussions to take place during the festival and to introduce people to the yearlong media arts programming and classes that MASA has to offer.

Under its tradition of celebrating diversity and multicultural heritage, the OC Film Fiesta will feature films from Orange County, North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

FIRST IMAGE: A scene from “It’s Gonna Blow!!! - San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996,” a film about the history of San Diego’s music scene. SECOND IMAGE: A scene from “Barrio Unido,” a music video starring the band Bombasta. THIRD IMAGE: A scene from “Islandtrification,” a short documentary following the Kānaka Maoli families as they resist gentrification in Maui, Hawaii. Images courtesy of OC Film Fiesta

The festival will open at the AMC Orange 30 with “Héroes,” a film directed by Ricardo Arnaiz that follows a group of military academy students during the U.S.-Mexican War. This will be the first live action film from Arnaiz, a Mexican animation pioneer.

Many films will also be relevant to timely world subjects.

Director Lani Cupchoy’s “Islandtrification” – a documentary on the Kānaka Maoli families as they resist the gentrification of Maui, Hawaii – presents a topical discussion after the deadly wildfire in Maui this past summer killed 97 and left thousands of residents displaced while tourism continued to operate.

A special selection of short films by Iranian female filmmakers will be held at the TVGB Digital Maker Space on Sunday, Oct. 22. In Iran, women’s resistance endures a year after the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of Iranian morality police after allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules requiring women to conceal their hair with a hijab or headscarf.

“Each year, there’s an incredible selection of what the emerging film world has to offer, films that you’re not going to see anywhere else,” Payan said. “There’s comedy, tragedy, politics, culture and artists responding to the issues that are important to their communities.”

The marquee at the Lido Theatre in Newport Beach lights up its display during a previous Newport Beach Film Festival. This year’s festival will feature 300 films from 55 countries. Photo courtesy of NBFF

Newport Beach Film Festival

The Newport Beach Film Festival is no stranger to entertaining an eclectic mix of folks in Orange County and beyond. Guests can expect 300 films from 55 countries, plus a diverse lineup of in-person experiences tied to the films people will get to watch.

One special event at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast includes five courses of well-known dishes from chef Susan Feniger to precede the New Port Theater (Corona del Mar) screening of director Liz Lachman’s “Susan Feniger. Forked,” a documentary that follows the award-winning celebrity chef on her first solo restaurant and her passion for global street food.

A total of 25 Southern California-area restaurants will do signature tastings for the festival.

Throughout the week, viewers can enjoy works from an array of film categories, including action sports, art, architecture and design, environmental, international, music video, culinary, LGBTQ+ and more.

A scene from “The Absence of Eden,” a drama starring Zoë Saldaña. This film will be screened at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the Regal Edwards Big Newport in Newport Beach during the 2023 Newport Beach Film Festival. Image courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival

Opening the festival on Thursday, Oct. 12 at Edwards Big Newport will be “The Absence of Eden,” directed by Marco Perego and starring Zoë Saldaña. The feature narrative film focuses on an ICE agent struggling with the moral complexities of border security and an undocumented woman fighting to escape a cartel, and how the two characters come together to save an innocent girl. The festival’s opening night party at Fashion Island in Newport Beach will follow with music, entertainment, and hor d’oeuvres prepared by award-winning Orange County restaurants.

The closing film will be director Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” starring Paul Giamatti as a New England prep school instructor who remains on campus to oversee a handful of students who have nowhere to go during Christmas break. The pair previously collaborated on the Oscar-award winning road-trip and wine-tasting film, “Sideways.”

A scene from “The Holdovers” a drama starring Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa. This film will be screened at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19 at The New Port Theater in Corona del Mar during the 2023 Newport Beach Film Festival. Image courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival

This year’s collegiate showcase – an opportunity for college and university students in Southern California to present their short films at the festival – will include works from Orange Coast College, Biola University, and California State University, Fullerton, among other schools.

The festival will also offer live discussions with filmmakers and awards celebrations with celebrity guests, including William Shatner, Eugenio Derbez, Jesse Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Glenn Howerton.

Nearly all the featured films will have someone associated with those works present at the Newport Beach Film Festival, according to co-founder and CEO of the Newport Beach Film Festival Gregg Schwenk.

“We want to take the passive experience of going to the movies and make it active,” Schwenk said. “It’s an opportunity to see award-winning films before anywhere else. The Newport Beach Film Festival has something for everyone, and people can experience the best that cinema has to offer today.”

Coast Film and Music Festival

The Coast Film and Music Festival, founded in 2019, presents adventure and nonfiction films to bring the outdoor and ocean communities together. For the event, the festival’s committee has selected approximately 70 documentary films from more than 300 submissions worldwide.

Each year, the event gathers filmmakers, professional athletes and changemakers who are addressing social problems.

During this five-day event, guests can also expect live music, art workshops and panels with filmmakers and athletes.

Individuals who cannot attend the event can watch a portion of the festival’s film catalog virtually through the festival’s online program, running Nov. 17-27.

The festival will kick off with opening night festivities at Hobie Surf Shop in Laguna Beach, where a special director’s Q & A, film screening and live musical performances will take place.

The Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach will serve as the main venue for film screenings, along with a curated exhibit of art for sale, a silent disco, elevated food trucks and other experiences.

This year, the event will also debut its first Coast Summit to take place Nov. 9. For a separate ticket of $115 at the door, the limited-seating summit presented by A New Earth Project will educate guests on conservation and social responsibility through workshops, networking and speaker panels with filmmakers, athletes and industry leaders involved in environmental activism.


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