By Andrea Meyer
Almost a week back from the Newport Film Festival (June 6-11), and I’m still catching up on sleep. Maybe I’m getting old and can’t slam tequila like I used to, but there’s only so much back-to-back movie and party-going that one body can take. It had been much too long since I’d indulged in the wonders of a warm, welcoming regional fest, and this was a great one to break the fast with. Newport has many things to recommend. Here’s my top 5:
The chateaux: Newport is a coastal town in Rhode Island famous for its myriad sprawling mansions. I grew up in West LA and have seen my share of homes of the rich and famous, but these beachside manors, once inhabited by the likes of the Vanderbilts and Astors, belong in the Loire Valley in France. I took a drive along Bellevue Avenue, where the bulk of them are found, in a convertible and on foot did the famous six-mile Cliff Walk, which stands between the ocean and the mansions’ backyards.
The chowder: New England clam chowder is one of those things like pizza and sex even when it’s bad it’s good. But when it’s good creamy and spicy like they make it at the Black Pearl on Newport’s wharf it’s heavenly. It’s considered the best in town locals boast that even Governator Schwarzenegger became an addict when he was shooting “True Lies” in town. I was equally impressed with my grilled shrimp and scallop brochette.
The fab documentary program: Ultimately it’s the movies that make or break a festival, and Newport’s were outstanding especially the docs. Culled from the best of the world’s fests, one after another made me laugh, cry, cheer, squirm, or wanna punch somebody. While I didn’t see a single clunker, I had some favorites: “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s Audience Award-winning stunner about a black North Carolina man convicted of raping and murdering a white woman by an all-white jury without a shred of evidence, who spent the twenty years in prison trying to prove his innocence; “Rank,” John Hyams’ profile of the three top ranking contestants in the fight for the bullfighting world championship; Kristi Jacobson’s “Toots” about legendary New York saloon-keeper Toots Shor; Chris Paine’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” chronicling the life and premature death of GM’s emissions-free vehicle; “Thin,” Lauren Greenfield’s look at a group of girls battling life-threatening eating disorders; Gary Tarn’s Best Doc Award-winning “Black Sun” in which artist and filmmaker Hugues de Montalembert tells his own story of being blinded during a mugging and learning to live and travel and create art as a blind man; and Andrew Walton’s “Arctic Son” about an aimless kid who gets some life lessons when he moves in with his dad in a tiny town in the Arctic.
Boozy events: When certain movies leave you in need of a drink, it’s a good thing there’s no shortage of cocktail receptions, parties, and after-parties, all conveniently sponsored by Stella Artois, Boru Vodka and Corazon Tequila. Highlights featured dancing to disco with the “Darryl Hunt” crew (including warm, wonderful Darryl and his equally wonderful lawyer Mark Rabil), a late-night get-together at an oceanside Italianate villa with a pool and a hot tub, and the very boozy awards ceremony brunch at The Chanler, one of Newport’s snazziest hotels, where the bloodies and mimosas we downed while Dianne Ladd was accepting a lifetime achievement award were almost as pretty as the view.
The getaway: Newport is a quaint town on the water with both luxurious hotels and quaint b&b’s, where the locals rally for its annual film festival. The people, from the staff to the volunteers (like Esther, everyone’s surrogate grandma) to the filmmakers provide excellent company, while the films and special events, like improv by SNL’s Rachel Dratch and her hilarious cohorts at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, provide non-stop entertainment. At a mere three-hour train ride from Penn Station, there’s no excuse to miss it.