NEWPORT BEACH - You might have seen the homeless guy panhandling near the pier or crooning Depeche Mode while stumbling
down Jamboree Road.
He's been around town for decades.
Now you can find out who he is, why he's become known as Newport Beach's town drunk and how one jailer has dedicated 12
years of his life to help him get sober.
The jailer, David Sperling, has filmed chronic arrestee Mark David Allen's plunge into alcoholism, talked to his family
members and interviewed the law-enforcement officials who encounter Allen every time he gets locked up, who have cleaned up
his vomit and seen him escape death.
The result is Sperling's one-hour, 42-minute documentary "Drunk in Public," which screens at noon today as part of the
Newport Beach Film Festival.
"I show this flier to people, and two out of 10 say, 'I've been there!'" said Sperling, holding up a booking photo of Allen
printed onto a promotion card for the film. "And I say, 'Four hundred times?'"
Actually, Allen has been arrested 423 times. Right now, he's in Orange County Jail on a string of charges involving alcohol
and violating a restraining order at a 30th Street coin laundry where he was caught urinating on clothes, Sperling said.
Allen's situation wasn't so bleak 12 years ago when Sperling first met him at the Newport Beach jail. Allen's arrest record
– nearly 100 at the time – caught the budding filmmaker's attention. Back then, Allen was a charismatic blond,
blue-eyed surfer whose promises to stay sober were convincing.
So Sperling started filming. When Allen disappeared, Sperling tracked him to a beach on Waikiki and found him passed out
on a park bench. He had amassed more than 90 arrests in about five years in Hawaii.
When Allen vowed to stop drinking in 2000, Sperling enrolled him in a six-month rehab program. Allen walked out after 11
Sperling has met with judges, doctors and court officials to find a way to help Allen. His film depicts not only Allen's
personal struggle, but also the difficulty of finding solutions.
"This is a fabric," Sperling said. "There are multiple issues here, and they all kind of hinge on each other. ... It takes
every single person with their 'A-game' to solve this problem."
He hopes his film somehow will inspire others. "I know that everyone who shows up is going to feel like it wasn't a waste
of time. Whether they have a laugh, get angry or are moved."