A&E

Farewell, CineVegas

A look back at the dearly departed film festival

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Trevor Groth speaks during the CineVegas 2009 Honorees Reception at Rain in the Palms.
Photo: Justin M. Bowen

Last week, CineVegas organizers announced that the veteran film festival, which held its 11th edition this June, would go on hiatus indefinitely, skipping at least 2010, with only vague promises for the future (“We’re hoping to be able to return as soon as possible, pending what happens to the economy,” says Anita Nelving, the festival’s outgoing managing director, who’s now out of a job along with the rest of the staff). One-off events, including the CineVegas Presents series at the Brenden Theatres inside the Palms and the CineVegas From the Vault series at the Clark County Library, will continue at least as far as they’ve been already announced. Although Nelving characterizes the 2009 festival, which was scaled down to six days from 10, as “a really successful festival on all fronts,” further downsizing or modification was apparently deemed unworkable.

As someone who attended and greatly enjoyed seven CineVegas festivals, starting in 2003, I’m really sad to see the event go away, quite possibly for good. CineVegas wasn’t perfect, but it was about as close as you could expect for a film festival in this town, and although there are a few smaller niche festivals that live on (most notably the Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City and the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, both of which are excellent), nothing exists in Vegas that can replace the CineVegas experience.

Winnebago Man

What was so special about that experience? Well, start with the obvious: simply bringing independent and art films to Vegas, and putting them in front of an audience. The festival itself offered opportunities to catch movies in theaters that otherwise would never be shown in Vegas, and in recent years CineVegas expanded beyond the festival proper to sponsor commercial openings of smaller films. I saw movies at CineVegas that never opened in Vegas theaters but nevertheless ended up being some of my favorite releases of their respective years (including films like The Puffy Chair, The Talent Given Us, Visioneers, Owning Mahowny and The Ring Finger); both Winnebago Man and The Square, from this year’s festival, have good chances of making my year-end roundup.

And people actually showed up to see these movies; they came from in and out of town, proving that Vegas could be both a cultural destination and an incubator of hometown art. Festival organizers wisely built up a coat of gloss to entice people to stay for the heavier stuff, and the parties became as much a draw as the films for many (not for me, though; I didn’t attend a single one in seven years). Sure, those gatherings played up the Vegas debauchery angle, but they also became prime networking spots for filmmakers, journalists and industry types, and rarely kept people from making it into the theater the next day.

If you see this man on your CAT route, wait for the next bus.

Anything I would have changed about CineVegas probably would have made it less successful, not more, but I would have liked to see less kowtowing to Hollywood and celebrities, and less reliance on higher-profile films that already played other festivals or were set to open commercially only weeks (or sometimes days) after screening at CineVegas. Still, I recognize that the eye-catching red-carpet premieres and buzz-generating movies brought in the audiences, which were often more eager to check out something offbeat after getting their celebrity fix.

Even with CineVegas in limbo, its legacy will remain, in the increased bookings of smaller films at local theaters, in the strengthened local filmmaking scene (the success of Las Vegans Jerry and Mike Thompson’s Thor at the Bus Stop is thanks in very large part to CineVegas), in the makeshift festivals that crop up anywhere someone can book a room and a screen. I’ll feel sad come next June when there’s no festival, but I can take some comfort knowing that, while it was here, CineVegas changed this town for the better.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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