By Mark Bell | June 17, 2008

Ten years. Part of me wonders how dry the cinematic landscape in Vegas must have been before the weird and wonderful world of CineVegas made its mark, and the other part of me is too busy enjoying the festival to even entertain the notion of a world without CineVegas, whether it be past or future.

Like CineVegas, I too find myself celebrating ten years on the festival circuit, a world I’ve inhabited as a normal audience member, volunteer, filmmaker, video reporter, fest associate producer and, now, critic. Reflecting on the years myself, and the various incarnations of my attendance and participation, it’s amazing how fast the years went by.

Four years ago was my first time at CineVegas and, quite honestly, the festival was not my first priority. Chris Gore, Pete Vonder Haar and I all had tickets for the Arena Football League’s championship game going on during the film festival’s opening weekend, and that’s what we were all excited about. Pete and I got into town a day ahead of Gore, and we caught the opening night film and then the various festivities.

That opening night, I met a number of people who, to this day, I see every year at CineVegas. And I’m not talking industry types either, I’m talking the Las Vegas locals who adore film, adore partying and enjoy quality conversation.

The enjoyment of the latter, in fact, made my first year at CineVegas a chore, as I lost my voice the second day in. That year, I stayed for four days and was convinced, quite simply, that that’s all anyone should put themselves through. The pace was too rough, temptations to hard to pass up. Watch films, reviews films, interview filmmakers, take pictures AND party like a Film Threat reporter is known to party!?!

The next year I set a personal precedent, staying for the full festival, and rightfully so. Unlike many festivals that front-load their programming slots so that all the good, buzz-worthy stuff hits on the opening weekend, CineVegas rolls out quality all week. You leave too early, you risk missing the true gems of the festival. Knowing that, I can’t imagine ever not attending the full festival duration again. Over the last three years, thanks to my sticking around for the full fest, beyond the quality films I’ve seen like “The Living Wake,” I’ve gotten drunk with sharks, attended a bowling party where someone lost a finger and danced on a bar like a burlesque dancer. Yeah.

I’ll be honest, the trick to the grind is the need to find proper balance. Even typing this… I’m writing this after three straight mornings of returning to the hotel room at sunrise, and after having seen 2-3 films per said days. I’ve learned you’ve got to let some parties go if you want to keep the coverage timely and quality, and I’ve learned no one will judge me poorly for doing so. Everyone has their night during the fest where the hotel room is much more inviting than latest capacity-filled nightclub. EVERYONE.

Now, I’ve been attending the CineVegas Film Festival almost half as long as it has existed, and I’ve seen growth every year. “Ocean’s Thirteen” raised the premiere glitz bar last year, but Artistic Director Trevor Groth and Associate Director of Programming Mike Plante bounced back this year with what is, in my opinion, probably one of the most challenging film programs I’ve seen in years (and I see a ton of films and film programs annually). In fact, I have seen more experimental indie film fare in the few days of this year’s opening weekend then I have seen all year.

But that is the beauty of CineVegas. Here I am, in the Las Vegas world of excess and I’m being given the type of truly independent cinema you normally expect to see at a Sundance or Cannes. I feel like I’m in a secret Vegas film-lovers club that no one knows about, though I know that eventually we’ll all be talking about CineVegas as one of the essential film festivals annually (if we’re not doing so already).

Ten years. Happy Birthday, CineVegas! Thank you for allowing me and my team the opportunity to enjoy the films you’ve found, and thanks for the late nights and free booze.

Film Threat’s coverage of the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival will continue all week, with reviews, interviews and daily blog entries detailing the insanity. Also, check out the coverage from CineVegas 2005, CineVegas 2006 and CineVegas 2007.

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