Short films are often the neglected stepchildren of film festivals, but they can be an untapped gold mine of interesting, challenging filmmaking, and I always make an effort to catch the shorts programs at CineVegas to see what so many others are missing. This year, I was a little disappointed with the offerings, which included some decent efforts but nothing that really grabbed my attention.
The festival has two regular shorts programs this year, along with a Nevada showcase, plus programs for films by UNLV and CSN students. Notable entries in the first shorts program included Logorama, a stunningly animated film populated almost entirely by corporate logos, which unfortunately failed to back up its loaded imagery with any sort of meaningful message; Fiddlestixx, a series of bizarre shorts by festival favorites the Zellner brothers starring a strangely powerful monkey, which were more baffling than amusing; and The Feast of Stephen, a Kenneth Anger pastiche written and directed by actor James Franco (who didn't show up to the festival). My favorite, though, was the much simpler Acting for the Camera, an amusing and surprisingly affecting takedown of pretentious acting teachers.
In the second shorts program, more grounded, human stories dominated the slate, including a couple of dramas (The Dirty Ones, Uprush) that had interesting themes and acting but felt unfinished, and one amusing but slight comedy (My Mom Smokes Weed). Another provocative film with gay themes, The Young and Evil, provided a troubling counterpart to Franco's Feast of Stephen; both films simultaneously pushed boundaries while depicting homosexual behavior as depraved and dangerous.
In the local showcase, a number of movies made as film-school theses, with decent budgets and professional production values and acting, proved that all the resources in the world don't make up for weak storytelling. Every year, these "local" movies (some produced entirely outside of Nevada) get more polished, but that doesn't mean the overall quality improves. The highlight of this year's program was a pair of low-fi shorts starring magician Teller, positing a scenario in which Vegas has been overrun by zombies, and the silent comedian is the only human left alive. They were simple and brief, but far more entertaining than the several overwrought relationship dramas surrounding them.