Despite how much the festival has grown in the last several years, CineVegas never forgets the community it operates in, and always offers a program of local short films, in addition to showcases for UNLV and CSN students. The Nevada Filmmaking Shorts program seems to get more accomplished every year, and the 2008 slate was refreshingly devoid of any egregious misfires (hello, half-hour documentary about buffets). Instead it was full of accomplished, well-made shorts mostly from local talent, with just one ringer (a very slick AFI thesis film whose only Vegas connection was one producer being from here).
Two of the shorts I'd actually seen before, at the Dam Short Film Festival in February: UNLV professor David Schmoeller's Wedding Day and the Thompson brothers' Passenger Seat. Passenger Seat seemed cleaned up a little, with clearer sound, and was just as funny and offbeat the second time around. The Thompsons are set to begin their first feature in a few weeks, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.
I also liked Amber Beard's Growing Up Vegas, a sweet local coming-of-age tale (here's an interesting interview with her at Sequential Tart), and mostly liked the oddball duo of Timothy L. Anderson's One Two Punch and Justin LaForge and David Christensen's Lactose Intolerant. Both were a little uneven, but they had plenty of surreal, funny moments.
The AFI short, The 7th Claus, was actually the most disappointing despite its impressive, professional production values. Once you get to a certain level of technical achievement, just looking skilled isn't enough, and although the acting was good and the cinematography was smooth, the story about a 30-something guy learning to grow up was sappy and heavy-handed.
One local short that I didn't get to see but am very pleased about is Tom Barndt's The Clay Head. Barndt's had a few shorts in CineVegas in the past, and actually went up to Sundance in January with his film The Mark. This year the festival programmers graduated him out of the local ghetto, and are playing The Clay Head before the feature Schoof. I didn't get a chance to catch it, but if it's anything like Barndt's other work, it's visually inventive, mildly creepy and bizarrely hilarious (the folks at Film Threat seemed to appreciate it). Barndt and almost all the filmmakers in this year's Nevada program give me renewed hope for moviemaking locally.