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The forgotten film festival

It was either the Las Vegas Film Festival or the Las Vegas International Film Festival, depending on which signage you believed (both titles are evident on the website), but regardless of the name, it was definitely upstairs in a pair of out-of-the-way conference rooms in the Eastside Cannery. That's where I was last night to take in the second edition of the confusingly named event, which last occurred in July 2007 in some even more out-of-the-way conference rooms at the Orleans. This year's model has been greatly expanded, spreading over four days and encompassing over 100 features, shorts and documentaries. Attendance appeared sparse when I arrived Thursday night around 6:15 to check out the feature Summerhood, before taking in the requisite program of Nevada shorts.

With such a huge slate, the festival provides little guidance as to what might be worth seeing, but I picked Summerhood out because of its John Cusack narration and proximity to the Nevada-shorts bill. Only about 10-15 people were in the "theater" (a cavernous room with rows of chairs and a DVD projector) with me, although a few laughed regularly throughout the mediocre coming-of-age story set at a summer camp. Thick with nostalgia, overnarrated and full of annoyingly precocious children, Summerhood has "straight to video" written all over it, thanks to Cusack and a couple of C-list character actors (Christopher McDonald, Joe Flaherty) in the supporting cast. Even if I had loved Summerhood, though, this was far from the optimal setting to view it; the sound was muddy and indistinct, and the picture quality middling. I often had trouble hearing the dialogue (and when I did hear it, it wasn't very good).

The room was much fuller (though still far from full) for the Nevada program, thanks to local filmmakers who are always good at drumming up support from family and friends. Two of the shorts, the horrendous Barn Dance and the sweet Growing Up Vegas, were ones I saw at the Dam Short Film Festival back in February (and Growing Up was also at CineVegas last summer), and another, Selling Out, didn't play because the filmmaker never showed up with the DVD. Among what was new to me, nothing really stood out. April Marks' noir pastiche Blind Tiger was stylishly shot but narratively thin and poorly acted; Eric West's The Devil's Backpack was hokey and repetitive; and Lance Mora's Crime Sweepers was a one-joke premise stretched out to 30 interminable minutes. Mora and his partners are apparently trying to market Sweepers, a live-action cop-drama parody in which the characters have brooms and other household cleaning implements for heads, as a TV show. Mora mentioned Adult Swim as a possible venue, and indeed the movie shared that channel's affinity for irritating, single-minded humor, and would certainly be more tolerable in 10-minute increments, so maybe there's hope.

I had tentatively marked a couple of other features as possibly being worth checking out, but after dealing with the long drive and the poor exhibition quality, I don't think I'll be back this weekend. It didn't seem like many other people would be showing up, either, although Twilight obsessives have clearly heard of this festival even if no one else has: The movie How to Be, starring Twilight's Robert Pattinson, is the only film scheduled to play more than once, and has already sold out two screenings.

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