Six years in, the Las Vegas Film Festival is still finding its footing. This year’s event returned to the Showroom and Shimmer Cabaret at the LVH, with some improvements but also some missteps. Since CineVegas ended in 2009, the LVFF has been the city’s default premier film festival, but it still feels like it’s playing catch-up to more high-profile events. Attendance looked sparser this year, and there were no well-known actors receiving the festival’s Indie Icon awards (they instead went to stuntwoman/actress Zoë Bell and newcomer Rory J. Saper of festival selection Rufus). Some past logistical issues still haven’t been resolved, most notably the botched projection in the Shimmer Cabaret, with movies shown in the wrong aspect ratio or with part of the picture cropped out.
But new programming director West McDowell (who joins festival director Milo Kostelecky) promised improvements to come, and he and his team clearly worked hard to bring worthwhile films to the festival. The LVFF’s programming slate is still largely unadventurous, but while I did see some forgettable, middle-of-the-road material, I was also pleasantly surprised by movies like Coldwater, an intense if uneven drama about a teen sent to a brutal “boot camp” for juvenile delinquents, which delivers a strong character study and a powerful ending. Magic Camp, a charming, Spellbound-like documentary about teens and preteens at a summer camp for aspiring magicians, was another highlight, stylistically simple but full of interesting personalities and heartwarming stories.
Local talent also made a strong showing at the festival, including Jeremy Cloe’s excellent feature Liars, Fires and Bears. Cloe’s movie was just shown at the Vegas Indie Film Fest in May, but it’s still a worthy selection to bring to a wider audience. There were short-film showcases for students from UNLV, CSN and NSC, and the general Nevada shorts program featured a number of UNLV alums. McDowell is himself a local filmmaker, and his dedication to film and his connections to the community bode well for the future of the festival. At this rate, in a few years it could finally be the film festival that Vegas deserves.