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'Love' Conquers All at Newport Film Fest

Movies: Polish effort takes top prize. Two O.C. filmmakers tie for audiences' favorites. Winners will close the event.

April 03, 1998|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Polish-made film about four kinds of love relationships has won the top prize at the 1998 Newport Beach International Film Festival.

"Love Stories," a contemporary morality tale starring and directed by Jerzy Stuhr, who also wrote the screenplay, took the Jury Award for best picture at a ceremony on Thursday in Newport Beach.

The Audience Award for most popular film went to two low-budget pictures that tied in festivalgoers' balloting. Both were made by Orange County filmmakers: Will Geiger's "Ocean Tribe," about surfers who take a dying friend to Mexico, and Tom Rooney's "You Are Here," about two people at the end of their romantic rope on a weekend date in New England.

Seven other pictures took prizes in as many categories, in addition to a newly created Breakthrough Award, given to Arizona filmmaker Karl Hirsch for "Green (aka Whatever)," about a diverse group of twentysomethings who reveal their shortcomings while high on homemade hallucinogens.

"Hirsch is a very young, first-time director, and his picture was extremely low-budget," said festival founder and executive director Jeffrey S. Conner, who headed the jury. "But it is one of the most creative first-time films we've ever seen."

The Newport festival, in its third year, ends Sunday with screenings of the award winners at Captain Blood's Village Theatres in Orange.

The other prizes:

* Best director: George Hickenlooper for "Dogtown." Hickenlooper made the short film "Sling Blade,' which was reworked into the Hollywood feature of the same name. This a new award.

* The Maverick Award (for best use of resources): Adam Kreutner for "Circles." The Manhattan Beach filmmaker found investors through an online entertainment chat room.

* Documentary: "Exile in Sarajevo," about the final siege of Sarajevo from the point of view of filmmaker Tahir Cambis, who comes from Bosnia and lives in Australia.

* Student film: "Firecracker," about a young boy's view of the world, made by Marymount Loyola University filmmaker Victor Vu, who grew up in Westminster and shot his movie there.

* Short: "Leonie," about the memories of one lover for another who has died, by Flemish filmmaker Livuwen Debrauer.

* Film marketing: "The Definite Maybe," by Rob Lobl (a Newport Beach filmmaker) and Sam Sokolow. "They've already scheduled five industry screenings with major studios, among them MGM and Goldwyn," Conner said.

* Pick of Festival: "Traveling Companion," a 17-minute film by Paula Goldberg. A new award, given by the executive director as a personal choice.

Overall, the festival will have screened more than 100 films this year.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in attendance and enthusiasm," Conner said. "It's taken us a while to refine things, and it's taken a while for the community to understand what a film festival is. This year both happened for the first time." Paid attendance is up 50% over last year, Conner said, with 15,000 tickets sold (compared with 10,000 in 1997).

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