You could say it’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Orange County film festivals in October.

The 12th annual OC Film Fiesta starts virtually on Thursday and runs through Oct. 24. The 12th edition of the Viet Film Fest kicks off Friday and runs through Oct. 30. VFF will be mostly virtual with a few in-person and drive-in screenings.

And the respected 22nd annual Newport Beach Film Festival has moved from late April-early May, and is now opening Oct. 21 and running through Oct. 28.

Despite the plethora of films and film fest events occurring at the same time, local organizers do not see a conflict.

“The more, the merrier,” said Yvonne Tran, board president of the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association, which organizes the Viet Film Fest. “We’ve worked with both film festivals before, whether referring films or attending each other’s festivals. We all have similar missions. The reasons we exist are similar. It’s better to work together than try to compete.” 

Here’s a breakdown of the three local film festivals and what to expect.

OC Film Fiesta

The OC Film Fiesta is going completely online for the second year in a row, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. About 45 films are scheduled, including a number of U.S. and West Coast premieres. Organizers are still adding a couple flicks to the schedule.

OC Film Fiesta

When: Oct. 14-24

Where: Online

Tickets: $10 general per screening, $5 for teachers, students, Santa Ana residents, military and veterans; $75 for an all-festival pass

Information: ocfilmfiesta.org

“It’s another fantastic, diverse mix,” said Victor Payan, executive director of Media Arts Santa Ana, the nonprofit responsible for the OC Film Fiesta. “Last year’s (festival) being virtual really opened us up to a national presence.”

Payan added that screening space in Orange County is kind of an issue — it can be expensive to book and difficult to find a venue amenable to all.

“Removing that from the equation exposes us to a wider audience,” he said. “It can be statewide or national. Last year, we hosted films on a couple platforms, so people could stream them.”

This year, the OC Film Fiesta is featuring a range of works by Latino, Asian American, African American, Middle Eastern, LGBTQ, student and Orange County filmmakers.

Highlights include:

  • A documentary called “My Name is Lopez,” based on Trini Lopez, the Mexican American singer, musician, nightclub performer and actor who scored 13 hit singles from 1963 to 1968, including covers of “If I Had a Hammer,” “Lemon Tree” and “Sally Was a Good Old Girl”;
  • The 40th anniversary presentations of Luis Valdez’s “Zoot Suit” and “Downtown 81,” a documentary featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry and Fab Five Freddy;
  • The Asian American-themed documentaries “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust” and “Phoenix Bakery: Sweets for the Sweet,” and short films “Dim Sum Dating” and “The Waiting Room”;
  • “American Exile,” a documentary about Latino military veterans who face the struggle of being deported because of their immigration status;
  • “Beat Your Heart Out,” a documentary about the 1970s Mexican American punk band called the Zeros;
  • “Carlos: Being in Light,” a documentary directed by Tyler Stallings, director of Orange Coast College’s Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion;
  • and films by a Chapman University student and Santa Ana high school students about Santa Ana.

The festival is also including workshops, Q & A sessions, and other special events.

Viet Film Fest

The Viet Film Fest, formerly known as the Vietnamese International Film Festival (or ViFF), was forced to cancel its 2020 program due to the pandemic.

Viet Film Fest

When: Oct. 15-30

Where: Online and in person at Frida Cinema, 305 E. 4th St. #100, Santa Ana; and Westminster Mall, 1025 Westminster Mall, Westminster

Tickets: $13 per screening; $60-$250 for passes

Information: vietfilmfest.com

It was an unfortunate turn of events, but the festival and its parent organization VAALA took a year to reorganize and reconsider how it was going to revive its programming for 2021. The fest hired an artistic director and a digital director for the first time.

Earlier this year, the film fest presented “Under the Same Roof,” a free series of short films about family offered through an online portal. That turned out to be an auspicious experiment, and this week the Viet Film Fest is back with a mostly virtual program of 15 features and 38 short films. Like the OC Film Fiesta, the film fest is using Eventive as its online film platform.

“It’s not only because of COVID reasons,” said Eric Nong, the new artistic director for VFF. “It’s a way to expand your reach, beyond the people in your geographic proximity. In an in-person event, your attendees are coming from Southern California.”

However, during the “Under the Same Roof” screenings, organizers discovered that viewers were coming “from across the West, across the U.S., attracting interest in Canada, Western Europe and the U.K.,” Nong said.

“A lot of it is pandemic driven, but this is a way we can expand our footprint, and introduce our films to all people in the diasporic community,” he said.

The 12th edition of the Viet Film Fest will open Friday with “Thua Me Con Di” (“Goodbye Mother”), a romantic dramedy directed by first-time auteur Trinh Dinh Le Minh. Set in contemporary Vietnam, the film explores sexuality and family, and follows a young man as he returns to his countryside hometown for his father’s funeral. While he’s there, he oscillates between desire and duty as he attempts to come out to his recently widowed mother and his unassuming family.

This year’s festival will continue the tradition of hosting free, public screenings on Community Day, which is also Friday, Oct. 15. Community screenings will include “Savory,” “Fighting for Family,” “The Promise,” “Blue Suit,” and “Malabar,” part of a program and panel called “Out from the Dark.” The series “Into the Light” will feature “Quan 13,” “Mua Hinh” (“Trading Card Season”), “Fresh Peaches,” “Nostalgia” and “Malabar.”

A few in-person events are planned, including “Saigon in the Rain” at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16. This will also be a fundraiser for the Social Assistance Program for Viet Nam (SAP-VN), an effort to provide COVID-19 relief in Vietnam.

“Bo Gia” (“Dad, I’m Sorry”), a family comedy that was a smash hit in Vietnam, will screen at 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Frida Cinema.

Film fest organizers are arranging two drive-in theater screenings at Westminster Mall: “The Paper Tigers” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23; and a free presentation of the Disney animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, which will close the festival.

“Raya” takes place in Kumandra, an imaginary Southeast Asian land, and many of the contributors are Vietnamese: Kelly Marie Tran, who voices the lead character Raya; Thalia Tran, a Newport Beach native who provides the voice of Little Noi, the baby in the movie; Qui Nguyen, a playwright who co-wrote the screenplay; and many other Vietnamese creatives who worked behind the scenes, according to Nong.

Yvonne Tran, the president of VAALA’s board, said this year’s Viet Film Fest is important for a number of reasons.

“After COVID, there’s a need to reflect, for society as a whole,” she said. “You have all these different perspectives, lifestyles, identities. What are the ways you can connect? We need to find a space where these identities and differences can co-exist and be embraced. There are so few spaces you can do that except for arts and movies.”

Tran, who has served as co-director of the Viet Film Fest in the past, said an Asian American film festival such as VFF serves an important role in a society and culture that is divided.

“We differ so much in our politics, our experiences as refugees, immigrants. This gets overlooked during this process of us trying to survive. There’s all this anti-Asian hate, and bringing that presentation and Asian American issues to the forefront is also essential.”

Newport Beach Film Festival

You could call it the granddaddy of local film festivals.

Newport Beach Film Festival

When: Oct. 21-28

Where: The Lot, The New Port Theater (Corona del Mar), Edwards Big Newport, Starlight Triangle Cinemas (Costa Mesa), Regency South Coast Village (Santa Ana)

Tickets: $15 general per screening, $10 for seniors, students, military, first responders and lifeguards; $40 for spotlight films; $95 for opening and closing nights; no festival passes are available this year

Information: newportbeachfilmfest.com

The 22nd annual Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) is going to be a decidedly in-person affair this year. As in previous years, more than 300 films from 55 different countries are scheduled to screen. Venues will include The Lot at Fashion Island, the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar, Edwards Big Newport, Starlight Triangle Cinemas in Costa Mesa and Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana. 

“We’re tremendously excited to be back on the big screen, and in person,” said Gregg Schwenk, CEO and executive director of NBFF. “We’re going to see films as they’re supposed to be seen.”

In 2020, the Newport festival was delayed several months due to COVID. There was a drive-in event that had limited admission, and a subsequent online festival. But NBFF lost over 90 percent of its revenue and 80 percent of its staff in 2020, according to Schwenk.

After some deliberation about whether to host another online fest, organizers decided that in-person was the only way to go for 2021.

“We realized that the strength of the Newport Beach Film Festival is to be able to be on the big screen, and offer that communal experience of going to the films,” Schwenk said. “Sadly, we just don’t have the bandwidth as an organization as well as the financial capital to do both a physical and a virtual (festival).”

Schwenk acknowledged that some folks may wish to stay at home for health and safety reasons, and he’s totally OK with that.

He also recognized that streaming services have only gained in popularity during the pandemic, and he didn’t want to compete with that.

“We don’t want to be a mini-Netflix,” he said. “There are so many options out there for both an audience and a filmmaker. It’s a very challenging environment …. We’re focusing on the physical, and trying to do that as professionally and safely as possible.”

The festival is constantly monitoring county recommendations for COVID-19, and, in fact, has a link to the county health officer’s latest COVID orders and recommendations for every ticket order on its site.

For unvaccinated guests, masks will be required for indoor screenings and at outdoor events. For vaccinated attendees, masks will not be required, but will be recommended both indoors and outdoors.

Opening the festival on Oct. 21 at Edwards Big Newport will be the world premiere of “Never Catch Pigeons: And Eleven More Hard Lessons from Mr. Paul Van Doren.” This documentary tells the story of the late Van Doren, who founded the shoe and clothing company Vans, which is headquartered in Costa Mesa. Van Doren died in May of this year at 90. The film is directed by Doug Pray, an NBFF alumnus (“Art and Copy”).

The opening gathering won’t be the typically huge and festive gala at Fashion Island. Rather, it will be a “Street Party” in the parking lot behind Edwards Big Newport, starting at 9 p.m.

“Everything we have is just a little bit smaller, a little bit more refined,” Schwenk said. “We’re not going to overtax the team, and we want everyone to feel safe.”

The closing film will be the West Coast premiere of “War on the Diamond” at the New Port Theater in Corona del Mar. Directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winner Andy Billman, “War” tells the story of Ray Chapman, the only MLB player to be killed by a pitch. A closing night reception will follow the screening at the theater.

Other films of note will include the centerpiece films “Belfast,” “C’mon, C’mon” and “The Hand of God”; the Korean spotlight “Kids Are Fine”; the Vietnamese spotlight “Kieu”; the Iranian Spotlight “180° Rule”; and “The Lost Daughter,” by first-time director Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The festival will also present an early screening of “Spencer,” starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, Princess of Wales. That film, which had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 3, is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on Nov. 5.

With all the competing films, events and choices coming soon, what’s a local movie buff to do?

“People should see as many films as they can,” said Payan, director of the OC Film Fiesta. “All the festivals are great festivals. They have great visions, different visions. Whatever festivals you go to, you’re bound to have a good time.”

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at rchang@voiceofoc.org.

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