By Mark Bell | December 24, 2008

Originally ran on on 06/27/08

I think I aged a year for every one of my 10 days in Vegas, coincidentally matching up with the CineVegas Film Festival’s 10th Anniversary. There were movies, there were parties, there were compromising photo shoots. Wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

If you’ve been reading along in the Film Threat Blogs, then you’re more than aware of the different things that happened during the festival, often immediately after they happened. Consider this more of a summary piece; a look back at 10 days in Babylon. For those of you more visually-inclined, I’m including some pics that didn’t appear on the blogs, as well as the video interview of Rainn Wilson from “The Rocker” red carpet. If you’re only interested in movie reviews, got those for you too. Lots of those…

The CineVegas Film Festival once employed the moniker of “World’s Most Dangerous Film Festival,” and I think that is probably the most appropriate of any I’ve ever heard. The parties are legendary, and practically non-stop, making those without the proper restraint and balance potential health risks. The location adds a nice mixture of danger too, as Vegas is at times your best friend and the possible home of your downfall, financially, emotionally or physically. But these are all the obvious connections. The true danger comes in the film programming.

It truly crystalized for me this year, after watching an anime bunny-critter take a s**t on watermelon seeds that were growing in a field that had sprouted from a bulbous, flying pillow-monster. Beyond being a prime candidate for a bad acid trip, the short film by legendary artist Takashi Murakami, “Planting the Seeds,” was being projected on a screen in the middle of the Lake of Dreams at the prestigious Wynn Casino, making for the ultimate subversive declaration of art and cinema. It’s this sort of odd juxtaposition of content and surroundings that makes CineVegas work so well.

I don’t necessarily like every film I see at the festival (par for any fest, really), but I respect the programming of the films. Why? Because I go into the theater expecting to see film “A” and I constantly find myself getting sucker punched with something entirely different and more challenging (in both positive and negative ways) than I expected. It really takes something to knock me off-guard; I’m pretty on-point with my gut reactions. Still, year in and year out, CineVegas continues to challenge me and, moreso, impress me by slipping in these types of films in such a glitzy, seemingly glamour-before-culture environment. And considering how hungrily the predominantly local Vegas audience eats it up, they must be doing something right.

Honestly, while I didn’t find this year’s festival to be a falling-off, I don’t think it raised the bar from previous festivals. Basically, in the four years I’ve been attending, CineVegas has, in my opinion, improved with their programming slates each year. This year, again, wasn’t a step back, it just wasn’t a step forward. In other words, I considered this a plateau year, and I’m hoping we get really walloped with some remarkable films next year (making me wonder, ultimately, if cinema ever has a ceiling).

Of course, my criticism of programming often doesn’t end at the programming so much as it extends to what is being made. As someone who has a big part in programming the Hollywood Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival, I can quite comfortably say that when I see a weak program, I immediately imagine all the REALLY bad films that didn’t make the cut. Seriously, next time you get ready to bitch about what a festival is screening, think about what the programmers saw and didn’t take. Then, you’ll truly understand.

As I mentioned above, I’m hoping for more amazing films next year, as this year was good but it wasn’t spectacular. I don’t think anything needs to change in how or why the films that are selected are selected, as I feel the passion for films that move you, one way or the other, has always been a strength of Trevor Groth and Mike Plante. They may not always pick something up my alley, but I know that they at least have a method to their madness, and I respect and appreciate that process because it pays off, in my mind, more often than it doesn’t.

Schedule-wise, I always feel bad when a filmmaker has a premiere in direct opposition to a major party. There was one film I caught where the filmmaker brought out his entire family for the big-screen debut of his latest feature and… they were the only ones there, save perhaps myself and two others. While it could’ve been that the movie wasn’t appealing to many, I tend to think it had more to do with the party that was getting underway at the same time. I know the festival does its best to keep this to a minimum, so I guess I’m mentioning this more to perhaps remind all you wonderful readers that, next time you’re debating seeing a premiere or going to a party, that you can party anytime (particularly at CineVegas) and should show the cinema love instead.

Capitalizing on the party segue, I don’t think the festival needs to do much as far as their parties are concerned; those are always tops. My only complaint comes from getting older and recognizing that loud music hinders my ability to talk to people and, oddly enough, the real joy I get at a festival is meeting all the new filmmakers and eventual lifelong friends and, therefore, I just wish the various clubs dropped the volume a bit. I have become a killjoy fuddy-duddy. This is not CineVegas’ problem.

In closing, CineVegas has passed a major anniversary, and I can’t wait until we do it all again at the 20 or 25th anniversary. I also hope I’m still attending the festival at that point, because, like Sundance and SXSW, for example, CineVegas is an annual part of my film-loving life, and I can’t imagine a June going by without me at the Palms watching films (and eating nachos; love the nachos).

The wrap-up continues with pictures and video in Part Two of Bruised and Battered: 2008 CineVegas Film Festival Wrap-Up>>>

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