It could be a warm summer night in 1958. A black-and-white sci-fi thriller is playing on the drive-in screen and a few cherry red vintage cars are parked in back while cute girls in roller skates (the Sin City roller girls) glide around, offering popcorn.
I don’t have a date to put my arm around but that doesn’t stop me from sitting in one of the few empty seats and trying to figure out the ludicrous plot of the 1958 film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, which CineVegas coordinators chose as the festival’s final film.
Not being a well-versed film critic, I can only say that plot lines, not to mention special effects, seem to have improved over the past few decades.
Nancy Archer, the disabused wife of a philandering and money-mooching husband—who even tries to kill her in order to obtain her millions for his mistress—somehow grows to a 50 foot giantess after coming in contact with a “satellite” and the alien inside. (Apparently, aliens had yet to design swanky UFOs with full amenities back then.) She promptly goes on a rampage, killing the mistress and mercilessly squishes Harry in her hand, only to be electrocuted by an electrical transformer right before the closing credits.
The movie was once thought of as a feminist story, because Nancy kills her cheating husband once her size and strength matches her jealousy. However, she also dies, which kind of throws a wrench in that interpretation.
No matter. When the drive-in wrapped up, the CineVegas crowd—directors, producers, actors, festival staff and cine-philes—collectively migrated from the Fremont Street Experience over to Sidebar for one last gathering before saying goodbye until next June.
Familiar faces from a week of late night parties and afternoons at the Brenden Theatres mingled in the warm night air in front of a backdrop of Downtown’s colorful neon.
Mike Plante, a slight amiable man with a copper mustache, had the word “Associate” crossed out in “Associate Director of Programming” on his CineVegas badge; he will be taking charge of the festival in 2010 alongside longtime Artistic Director Trevor Groth.
“This is the best festival we’ve ever had because we always wanted people to be at the festival at the same time but we wanted to show more movies, so it had to be longer,” remarked Plante, referring to the condensed six-day festival that had previously stretched over 10 long days. “So thank you economy, for forcing us to do the right thing. Now, it is more intense and more Vegas.
“I’m guessing that 75 percent of the shows were full or sold all the way out; people were even at the 10 a.m. shows. It was great. I think that people can bite into the idea more when it’s weekend-sized.”
Plante plans to keep the more “intense,” abridged version for 2010, but to aggrandize the classic Vegas image.
“We’re looking forward to more of the same, but we’re going to pump up the idea of Vegas to the rest of the world,” he says. “People love the idea of classic Vegas and the escape, so we’re going to punch that up, because people don’t realize there is culture here. Everyone that came here is surprised by the support and just how cool it is here.”
One man who fit that description was Douglas Tirola, the man behind Documentary Jury Award winner All In: The Poker Movie. Tirola, looking appropriately directorial in a light suit jacket and argyle socks, is an extroverted, loquacious director and producer from New York.
Tirola sighed when I asked him if he was heading home to the big city tomorrow. “My producer is making me go,” he said, looking across the table at his producer like a sorrowful little boy. “I wish I could stay longer, I haven’t had enough of Vegas yet.”
But Tirola might be back soon, to the exact same bar, in fact, with a camera crew. His next documentary will focus on “the role of the saloon in our culture, how it is the unofficial country club and town hall for the working class and how that part of our culture is slowly dying. How the neighborhood bar—Cheers, so to speak – is disappearing and what that means for our culture ... Hopefully it will have a comeback like poker did.”
Tirola fell in love with Sidebar, a quaint and understated swank bar with a brick façade and an open-air patio on 3rd Street.
“This place is great—I already talked to the owner and we’re going to come shoot here,” he said, leaning back in his patio chair with a faint half-smile.
That sort of connection is what CineVegas is all about, whether it’s between bar owners and directors or filmmakers and producers.
“The filmmaker reception that we’ve done eight years in a row is the perfect way to start the festival,” explained Groth. “It brings together all the filmmakers in an elaborate venue and it allows them to come together right at the start of the festival. Then they go out and watch each other’s films, and it creates a real family of filmmakers. We downplay the competition aspect of the festival. It’s about the films and connecting them with audiences.”
Whether for love of the films, the filmmaker community, the classic Vegas concept or the succession of glamorous parties, you can guarantee that plenty of people will be back next year for a new set of buzz-worthy flicks and a filmmaker family reunion.
When I told Tirola that I hoped he enjoyed his final night in Vegas, he countered, “final night for now. I’ll be back soon, I hope.”