The Las Vegas Film Festival is constantly evolving, and this year’s 10th edition brought more changes, with a move to the Brenden Theaters at the Palms following a few years Downtown. There were pros and cons to the change in venue, which sacrificed some of the community feel of the Downtown setting but offered a much better facility for showing the movies, which festival creative and program director West McDowell told me was his highest priority (justifiably so). And even if a casino food court isn’t as appealing as Fremont East for killing time between screenings, having all the festival activities and accommodations in one place did make for a more cohesive event.
The change in venue also came with a reduced screening schedule, and the feature lineup suffered a bit. The best features I saw were all heavily hyped movies from January’s Sundance Film Festival, and while it’s always welcome to see acclaimed independent films play Vegas theaters, there wasn’t much of a sense of discovery to these selections. That didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying New York City-set indie comedies Person to Person and Landline, both of which owe a lot to peak Woody Allen. The ensemble comedy Person to Person is more arch and sardonic, while the 1995-set Landline, the second collaboration between Obvious Child writer-director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate, is warmer and more character-driven. Both are funny and engaging, and both will be available to general audiences later this summer.
Also getting released later this summer is Gook, a black and white period piece from writer/director/star Justin Chon, set during the 1992 LA riots and focusing on a pair of Korean-American brothers who run a flailing small business in a mostly black neighborhood. It gets a bit too manipulative toward the end, but overall it’s a passionate personal vision from a promising new voice.
Although there weren’t any purely local productions among this year’s features, there was one movie made elsewhere by a Vegas-based filmmaker (Brandon Christensen’s low-budget horror movie Still/Born, produced in Canada) and one shot locally by an out-of-towner (Robert Scott Wildes’ experimental comedy Poor Boy). Still/Born is an achievement in commercial filmmaking (competent and workmanlike rather than especially creative) that could easily fit alongside similar offerings on Netflix. Poor Boy makes good use of interesting and underrepresented Las Vegas-area locations, but that’s about all the annoying, meandering, unpleasant movie has going for it.
There was greater diversity and quality in the shorts programs, with a wider range of voices and styles, including some bold programming choices and a stronger showcase for local talent. If festival organizers can bring that spirit to the feature slate next year, it would be another positive step for the ever-changing event.