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Las Vegas Film Festival continues to improve

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Music documentary Marley was perhaps the highest-profile film in this year’s Las Vegas Film Festival.

After five years, the Las Vegas Film Festival hasn’t achieved its organizers’ stated goal of filling in for the departed CineVegas, but it has come a long way. The terrible scheduling problems that plagued last year’s festival were eliminated, and this year’s festival overall came off as much more professional and efficient. While it would be nice to see the festival graduate to an actual movie theater, the LVH’s showroom is a decent substitute, and it’s a large enough room that it can look deceptively empty, when many of this year’s screenings were actually quite well-attended.

The most high-profile movie in the festival, the Bob Marley documentary Marley, drew possibly the largest crowd, and it was also the best example of festival director Milo Kostelecky’s ability to attract the kind of acclaimed, buzzed-about indie films that used to populate the CineVegas schedule. Marley is a straightforward music documentary that doesn’t take a lot of chances, but it’s also well-crafted and effective at telling the story of Marley’s life. Its theatrical run bypassed Vegas, but it’s out on DVD August 7 and currently available via video on demand.

The other film selections represented the festival’s mostly middle-of-the-road sensibilities, with plenty of competently crafted but mediocre offerings. The closest thing to a local feature was MoniKa, starring and produced by Vegas native (and longtime LA resident) Cerina Vincent, who brought a healthy contingent of family and friends to the screening. A pulpy and sometimes stylish B-movie thriller shot mostly in Vegas, MoniKa suffers from a lame twist ending but features some entertaining performances and action set pieces along the way.

Kostelecky has also worked to attract more famous faces to the festival, and this year’s tributes to actors Lea Thompson and Louis Gossett Jr. were both solid showcases. Thompson brought her new low-budget drama The Trouble With the Truth, an intriguing if not entirely successful two-person talk-fest co-starring John Shea, and Gossett presented the classic An Officer and a Gentleman, for which he won an Oscar in 1983. Both actors were gracious and charming, although both were sometimes overshadowed by the Q&A host, irritating filmmaker and actor Ash Adams. Adams never missed an opportunity to interject his own opinions and experiences into the discussion and often came off as clueless and ill-prepared.

Adams’ involvement may be necessary to attract Hollywood names, and that’s a big part of growing the festival. Thursday’s showcase of Asian cinema also helped expand the festival boundaries, and Kostelecky would do well to focus on efforts like that if he wants the LVFF to eventually garner the same kind of recognition that CineVegas was able to earn.

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