More than 350 films from 50 countries are slated for the 16th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, Apr. 21-Apr. 28. Special events, red carpet galas, conversations with filmmakers, international spotlight events and seminars are all part of the mix.

The popular Collegiate Showcase screenings, including student films from USC, Chapman University, UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach, are slated for Apr. 23-24, most at The Studio at Sage Hill in Newport Coast.

This writer has already had the chance to preview “Rwanda & Juliet,” a mesmerizing documentary (showing Apr. 23 & 27) about what happens when a retired college professor journeys to Rwanda to direct a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” At the outset we meet Prof. Andrew Garrod, co-founder of Youth Bridge Global, a non-profit aimed at providing theater opportunities to young people in challenged parts of the planet; he wants to feel he’s “still relevant…doing something to benefit humanity.”

With high hopes Garrod casts Hutu and Tutsi high school and college students—orphans of the 1994 genocide that took the lives of nearly 1,000,000 Tutsis within 100 days—in the Bard’s famed tragedy. “How do they go on with their lives? Make art,” suggests the play’s associate director, James Rice. But the film doesn’t shy away from controversy when things don’t go according to plan: Tété Umulisa (Juliet), whose father and siblings were victims of the mass murder, nearly derails the production when she raises last-minute concerns.

It’s a promising first feature for director Ben Proudfoot, whose short films have already won awards. Sub-titles would be helpful when he interviews some of the cast members who are often a little hard to understand, but ultimately he captures the hopes and dreams of the participants—perhaps with the greatest impact when an actor holds hand to heart to express how he feels about being cast in the play.


Author: Jordan R. Young

Jordan R. Young is a journalist, show business historian, playwright and theatre critic. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways, AAA Tour Books, and The People’s Almanac.