An Insider’s Guide to the NewportFILM Sports Festival


NewportFILM Sports hosted by the International Tennis Hall of Fame begins on Friday, April 29 and runs through Sunday, May 1.

All across the country, spring marks the beginning of festival season. From Coachella to the Tribeca Film Festival, when the sun comes out, the shows go on. Newport, of course, is known for its own long-standing music festivals later in the summer, but this spring, there’s a new act in town – newportFILM Sports. This inspirational festival brings five feature-length documentary films, eight shorts, and a handful of supporting events to the International Tennis Hall of Fame over the course of three days. With its finger on the pulse of the cultural cutting edge, newportFILM has curated a festival replete with all the civilized charm the organization is known for. In other words, this is one event you won’t want to miss. So whether you decide to go with an all-access pass or cherry pick which events you’ll attend, here how’s to how to navigate your weekend.


{Friday, April 29}


Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci stole the hearts of sports fans everywhere in the 1970s; the film “Winning” describes how she found her competitive edge.

1. Ace opening night

What does it take to be a winner? Find out at the screening of Winning (6:30 p.m.), which explores why some athletes achieve greatness via interviews with Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Nadia Comaneci, and others. (Like all other films this weekend, it will be shown in the breathtaking Casino Theater.) Take the lessons you’ve learned to the Opening Night party (8 p.m.; tickets required; entrance included with all-access pass), grab a drink, and toast your newly found competitive edge.


{Saturday, April 30}

newportFILM sports - T-Rex 4

Claressa Shields, who competed in the women’s boxing Olympic debut, is a badass. Get to know her on Saturday April, 30.

2. Take a stroll through history

Saturday’s programming lineup begins at the leisurely hour of 11 a.m., which gives you plenty of time to take a stroll along Newport’s famously beautiful Cliff Walk, currently resplendent with daffodils as well as Gilded Age mansions. Back on Memorial Boulevard, grab a bite at Newport Wine Cellar & Gourmet before heading in to see Touch the Wall, the story of two Olympic swimmers, Missy Franklin and Kara Lynn Joyce. Inspired? Check out the Female Olympian Panel at 1:30 p.m. (free; r.s.v.p. required); four-time silver medalist Joyce will be on hand to speak.

3. Visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum

The documentary films aren’t the only things bursting with inspo. The recently overhauled ITHF Museum holds the timeline of professional tennis, including thousands of objects and artifacts. Have a chat with Roger Federer – well, his hologram anyway (seriously, it’s cool) – and learn more about the heroes and history of the game. By the way, the grounds are also home to the National Tennis Club’s court tennis arena, one of just a few dozen remaining worldwide. The public is welcome to stop in for a look at this ancient game.

newportFILM Sports - NY Times Op-Docs 1 copy

One New York Times Op-Doc follows the unusual world of side car racing.

4. Take a seat and get your popcorn on

Eight short films – each roughly 6–12 minutes in length – have been culled from New York Times Op-Docs (3 p.m.), an Emmy Award–winning editorial forum for brief, opinionated documentaries. The selection was specifically curated for newportFILM – one of of very few occasions that the Op-Docs team has collaborated with a festival. At 4:30, T-Rex invites viewers to follow Claressa Shields in the fight of her life, as she struggles to make it to the 2012 Olympics in women’s boxing.

5. Grab a drink at La Forge

Located adjacent to the ITHF, La Forge Casino Restaurant is a Newport institution serving classic New England fare. Grab a bite and a tipple while you imagine smashing overheads and punching volleys on the grass courts within view.


6. Cheer on the underdog

Last summer, locals turned out in droves to welcome Volvo Ocean Race sailors as they pulled into Newport – the race’s only North American stopover – even in the dead of night, when the cheering throngs’ whoops and whistles could literally be heard across town. (If that doesn’t say this town loves sailing, I don’t know what does.) The VOR – a grueling off-shore competition – is considered one of the world’s toughest sporting events. In it’s inaugural year – when the race was still called the Whitbread Round the World Race – a recreational sailor from Mexico entered with a rag-tag team – and won. The Weekend Sailor is the true story of these unlikely heroes. (Bonus: It’s narrated by Simon LeBon.) Buy tickets early for this event, because everyone loves an underdog.

newportFILM sports - The Weekend Sailor 1

7. Head to the Cooke House

Cocktails at the Clarke Cooke House are de rigueur for a Saturday night on the town. All-access pass holders will get their money’s worth at a chic party in the Sky Bar, where cocktails, hors d’ouevres, and a DJ will keep you dancing through the night while you rub elbows with filmmakers, sponsors, and other VIPS. All others: You’ll be paying out of pocket and hanging with the (also chic) masses in the Candy Store, Grille, and Boom Boom Room.


{Sunday, May 1}

8. Cross your legs and say om

One too many Bombay Smashes last night? Here’s where to shake out the cobwebs. Just go easy on the pancakes – you’ll want to be able to get bendy with internationally renowned yoga instructor Coral Brown on the Horshoe Court (11 a.m.) Families, meanwhile, can check out the youth tennis clinic at 10 a.m. (Both events are free, but an r.s.v.p. is required.)

newportFILM sports - Dark Horse POSTER

9. Get on your high horse

What happens when a group of working-class buddies from a mining town in Wales decide to breed their own championship race horse? For one thing, they get a Sundance Audience Award. Dark Horse, the formidable tale of these unflagging spirits – at once heartwarming and heartbreaking – will leave you cheering right up till the end.

For more information about tickets, locations, events, and times, visit newportFILM. All photos used courtesy of newportFILM.

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.


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