The 18th Newport Beach International Film Festival announced its award-winners over the weekend, after an 8-day festival in Southern California. The festival, which featured an Irish film spotlight, announced multiple awards for Irish films and filmmakers.

Irish/Scottish co-production Moon Dogs was the big winner, taking the the Jury Prize for Best Film and Best Actor for Jack Parey Jones. A coming-of-age road trip story that follows Michael and his step-brother Thor on an epic road trip south from Scotland, meeting Irish free spirit Caitlin along the way, whose charms lead to them both falling in love with her. Moon Dogs was co-produced by Ripple World Pictures.

Sanctuary won the Jury Prize for Best Director for the work of Len Collin. Sanctuary tells the story of Larry, who has Down Syndrome, and Sophie, who has severe epilepsy. The two are attracted to each other and, through a care worker Tom (Robert Doherty), they sneak away during a supervised cinema trip, to a hotel room. What do they do once they are there? Are they aware that in Ireland they are about to break the law? While these questions are posed, the rest of their colleagues seek out their own challenges: an impromptu shopping trip, pints in the pub and a surreptitious cuddle in front of a movie screen. These simple challenges and triumphs offset the dramatic challenges that take place in a Galway hotel room between two people who refuse to be defined by their disabilities. Sanctuary is a unique film in that it employs a large cast of actors with intellectual disabilities, such as Downs and Autism. The cast was led by Kieran Coppinger and Charlene Kelly. It also stars Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Patrick Becker, Jennifer Cox and Valerie Egan. All are members of Blue Teapot, a multi-award-winning theatre company for people with intellectual disabilities.

I was in the middle of cooking dinner at home when the news came through, needless to say the dinner ended up getting burnt. It’s a real surprise, it never occurred to me that we’d be in with a chance, Newport Beach has a fantastic reputation on the circuit and an amazing footfall of over fifty thousand people attending. Deona Hamilton, the programme has been amazingly supportive… the only shame was that because of work commitments I couldn’t attend… but I was there in spirit. To say I’m delighted is an understatement, and the award is a testament to the work of our whole team… especially my right hand man DoP Russell Gleeson. And of course it all starts with a great script from Christian O’Reilly and the faith of our producer Edwina Forkin…. thanks also. To the IFB and BAI for their faith too. … Can I shut up now?
Len Collin – Director, Sanctuary

This is amazing recognition for Len Collin – well deserved! His vision and belief in Christian O’Reilly’s script and the amazing cast, the Blue Teapots under Petal piley’s directorship has paid off in this wonderful jury award from Newport Beach – enjoy the accolade Len – thanks to the Jury, it means a lot to us all.
Edwina Forkin, Zanzibar Films – Producer, Sanctuary

Mark O’Connor’s independent crime-drama Cardboard Gangsters won Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking: Foreign Film. Cardboard Gangsters follows a group of wannabe cardboard gangsters as they attempt to gain control of the drug trade in Darndale, chasing the glorified lifestyle of money, power and sex. Jay Connolly is a part-time DJ and low-level drug dealer in North Dublin, an area victimised by gangs, drugs and social problems. When his welfare is cut off he decides it’s time for him and his gang to enter the big leagues. This attracts the attention of the local King Pin and sets Jay down a violent and bloody path. Cardboard Gangsters is produced by Richard Bolger for Five Knight Films, in association with O’Connor’s Stalker Films. DoP was Michael Lavelle (Patrick’s Day), with post-production taking place at Egg Post in Dublin. The film is funded by the BAI, Filmbase, and TV3. It will be released via Wildcard Distribution later this year.

It was very special to receive this award from the Newport Beach Film Festival considering the quality of competition from around the world. For some reason foreign audiences are connecting with our film on an emotional level, despite the strong Dublin accents. It was an honour to represent Irish film in LA. We open in Irish cinemas in a few weeks and we are hoping Irish audiences will take to it the same way foreign audiences have.
Mark O’Connor – Director, Cardboard Gangsters

Irish actress Seána Kerslake picked up an award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking: Acting for her powerful performance in Darren Thornton’s A Date for Mad Mary. In A Date for Mad Mary, ‘Mad’ Mary McArdle returns to Drogheda after a short spell in prison – for something she’d rather forget. Back home, everything and everyone has changed. Her best friend, Charlene, is about to get married and Mary is maid of honour. When Charlene refuses Mary a ‘plus one’ on the grounds that she probably couldn’t find a date, Mary becomes determined to prove her wrong. But her attempts at dating are a disaster and she winds up feeling more alone… until she meets Jess and everything changes.  The film is directed by Darren Thornton and stars Seána Kerslake, Tara Lee, Charleigh Bailey, Denise McCormack and Siobhan Shanahan.

Aerial Ireland won Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking: Cinematography for Colm Hogan’s work on the documentary. A fascinating and revealing story of Ireland: its geology, natural terrain, human history and built environment as seen from the air. Using stunning drone aerial photography, this is a spectacular overview of the multifaceted complexity of the incredibly diverse, beautiful and historically significant island of Ireland.

Vincent Gallagher’s IFTA-award-winning Second to None won Best Animated Short Film. Second To None tells the story of Frederick Butterfield, a failed inventor who has always played second fiddle to his one minute older twin brother Herman. When Herman becomes the world’s oldest man, Frederick finally sees his opportunity to be first place. He’ll just have to kill his brother to do it. Written and directed by Vincent Gallagher and produced by Damian Farrell as part of the Irish Film Board/RTÉ Frameworks scheme, the film is animated by Jason Watts (Igam Ogam) with stunning production design and character fabrication coming from Aoife Noonan (A Terrible Hullabaloo) and Pierre Butler respectively.

Irish actor Eoin Macken won the award for One to Watch. Macken is currently shooting season 4 of Sony/NBC’s hit summer series The Night Shift, playing the lead character of “TC”. He was last seen in cinemas starring opposite Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter in Screen Gems’ franchise Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Last year he was also seen in cinemas starring opposite Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney in Focus Features’ The Forest directed by Jason Zada, as well as being seen on TV in National Geographic Channel’s Emmy-nominated event series Killing Jesus, starring opposite Stephen Moyer, Rufus Sewell and Kelsey Grammer.  Macken also wrote, directed, and stars opposite Jack Reynor and Tom Hopper in the Independent feature Leopard, which is available on Amazon.  He is also known for his work in the hit BBC series Merlin, starring as the swashbuckling hero “Gwaine”, and recurred on the fourth season of Showtime’s Emmy-winning series The Tudors.  He also starred opposite Emilia Fox in Mike Figgis’ Suspension of Disbelief

Aisha Tyer’s Axis, which was written by and stars Irish actor Emmet Hughes, won two awards, the Artist of Distinction Award for Tyler and an Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking: Feature Film.

The Festival’s selection committee reviewed more than 2,500 films. The Festival screened over 350 films, representing 50 countries. The films competed for Jury, Festival Honours and Audience Awards.  The 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival jury featured an impressive roster of film industry professionals, including Claire Best, CEO and owner of Claire Best & Associates, Hunt Lowry, producer and CEO/President of Rosework Films, Actor Robert Reed Carradine, Mike Repsch, Senior Vice President of Distribution and Sales at Breaking Glass Pictures, Arianne Rocchi, VP of Publicity at Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing, Larry Greenberg, Head of Acquisitions and Domestic Distribution for Ambi Media Group, Oscar Nominated writer/director Tom Van Avermaet, and Todd Slater, co-founder and partner at Blue Fox Entertainment.

Attendance at the 2017 Newport Beach International Film Festival was on par with last year’s record attendance of 50,000 people. The 18th annual Festival had the largest participation of International filmmakers and showcased films from over 58 countries with delegations attending from Australia, Germany, Ireland and Canada. The Newport Beach International Film Festival is sponsored in part by City of Newport Beach, Visit Newport Beach, Experian, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Celebrity Cruises, Fashion Island and Los Angeles Times.

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