‘American Animals’ and Opening Night Gala Kick off 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival

The 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival began Thursday night just like it should, with cameras flashing. Dozens of photographers crowded a logo-filled backdrop at Edwards Big Newport multiplex as well-groomed actors and filmmakers cascaded across a carpet undeniably red. Held to a staccato beat by the pop of bright lights, guests prepared for the debut of the festival’s first film, American Animals.

The movie, based on a true story, follows four friends who scheme up one of the most elaborate art heists in U.S. history. Told from four perspectives, the narrative unfurls into an allegory of the soul-seeking journey many take to transform the ordinary into something extra. Steal the artwork, reclaim hold on whatever it means to really be someone, (or so the theory goes in the minds of life-unfulfilled thieves).

After the movie came the Opening Night Gala at Fashion Island, a sumptuous pronouncement the 19th annual Newport Beach Film Festival was officially underway. More than 350 films will be showcased by the time the festival ends Thursday, May 3; and days and nights of showings will be punctuated by international spotlight events, post-film receptions and industry-related seminars.

Darius Philon, defensive end for the Los Angeles Chargers at the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival Opening Night Gala. // Photo: Edgar Reyes, @er1251

All elements of the Opening Night Gala seemed to follow the theme for this year’s festival, “See Who Made the Cut,” an homage to the discerning selectivity of films chosen among thousands to screen. From live performances to food to fashion, everything was just a little bit bolder, working hard for its place amid a festival meant to showcase the very best in Newport Beach.

Culinary highlights included liquid-nitrogen popcorn—the effect of smoke emitting from the mouths of those who indulged was nearly cinematic—and Fig & Olive’s Paella Noir. (Though it’s a menu staple, the dish still winked at film noir with its dark squid ink rice.)

Chef Andres Dangond makes street tacos on Lynx Grills at 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival Opening Night Gala. // Photo: Edgar Reyes, @er1251

The CUT Restaurant’s Executive Chef Andres Dangond was also on hand for a live “Tacos by Dres” cooking demo. Chef Dangond created his famed street tacos—savory confections stuffed with pickled fennel, goat cheese, cilantro and salsa verde—on massive Lynx Grills. (The tech inside the grills is meant to eliminate gas grill accidents.) Like a culinary film character come to life, the chef was animated and friendly as he satiated late-night cravings of the crowd.

Side Deal performs at the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival Opening Night Gala. // Photo: Edgar Reyes, @er1251

About an hour before midnight, Side Deal took the main stage, and the newly formed band played a tight set of dance-worthy Top 40 favorites and originals, even inviting students from Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) to join for a song. The band consists of GRAMMY-award-winner Charlie Colin from Train; Stan Frazier and Murphy Karges of Sugar Ray; Jeff “Skunk” Baxter from Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers; and the PawnShop kings’ Joel and Scott Owen, brothers born and raised in Newport Beach.

“This show is as hometown as it gets,” said Scott Owen between tunes.

Side Deal’s Jeff Baxter plays at the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival Opening Night Gala. // Photo: Edgar Reyes, @er1251

Later, dance troupe Academy of Villains (So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent) performed a wild medley. Dressed as monochromatic mimes, the troupe delivered an electrified performance that mixed several flavors of movement—hip hop, jazz, theater—in expert syncopation.

Academy of Villains perform at Newport Beach Film Festival. // Photo: Edgar Reyes, @er1251

As the evening wrapped, it was evident that movie magic was celebrated with lavish flair, but in a crowd of artists and stylish patrons of the arts, every dramatic detail felt right on cue.

For ticket information to the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival, visit www.newportbeachfilmfest.com.