A Newport Beach festival shows off the cinematic O.C.

Newportwood? Hey, it could happen. So popular is The O.C., the Fox prime-time soap opera, that last fall Newport Beach, California, had the show’s stars dip their hands in cement at the historic Balboa Pavilion. This month the sixth annual Newport Beach Film Festival showcases Orange County’s cinematic aspirations.

Over the course of the 10-day festival, film buffs can spend entire days and nights watching movies ― there will be more than 300 features, shorts, documentaries, and animated films (including a number shown at the preeminent Sundance Film Festival) ― as well as attend free seminars with writers, directors, cinematographers, and animators.

The festival helps honor what is in fact a notable film tradition in the county south of Los Angeles. The father of American cinema, D.W. Griffith, shot one of his first films not in Hollywood but Orange County: The 1917 version of Cleopatra, starring Theda Bara, turned Newport’s bays and beaches into the coast of Greece. And in 1966’s The Endless Summer ― the Bruce Brown surf classic ― the search for the perfect wave began at the Wedge, right here in Newport Beach.

You can easily visit the Wedge (adjacent to West Jetty View Park; 949/644-3151) and a number of other Orange County film locations. In Tom Hanks’s 1996 That Thing You Do, 106-year-old Watson Drug store (116 E. Chapman Ave.; 714/532-6315) in Old Towne Orange subbed for a store in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1988’s Beaches, Bette Midler occupied a choice cottage in Crystal Cove State Park (off Pacific Coast Hwy., south of Corona del Mar; 949/494-3539).

Still, this month the big film news is the festival. Many of its movies will be screened at the elegant Lido Theater, an art deco gem built in 1939. As a festival organizer points out, the Lido isn’t far from where the great stone-faced comedian Buster Keaton confronted cannibals in his 1924 classic, The Navigator. “Imagine cannibals in Newport,” says the film-industry insider, just a little tongue-in-cheek. “Sounds kind of like Hollywood, doesn’t it?”

INFO: Newport Beach is about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. The Newport Beach Film Festival (from $10 per screening; www.newportbeachfilmfest.com or 949/253-2880) runs April 21-30. Seminars are free and first come, first served. For area information, contact the Newport Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau ( www.newportbeach-cvb.com or 800/942-6278).

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