The Las Vegas Film Festival struggles to find its niche
Wed, Jul 20, 2011 (6:38 p.m.)
Now in its fourth year, the Las Vegas Film Festival seems like it’s forever trying to play catch-up, whether with the defunct CineVegas, more impressive film festivals in other cities or fancier events here in town. This year’s festival once again showed signs of improvement, indications that festival director Milo Kostelecky and his associates are headed in the right direction. In the meantime, though, it was still plagued by poor scheduling (at one point on Sunday afternoon, screenings were running 45 minutes behind), a mediocre venue (the Hilton’s theater and Shimmer Cabaret) and a mostly unremarkable slate of movies.
Kostelecky seems to be aiming for crowd-pleasing mainstream fare rather than anything particularly artistic or daring, and the decent-sized audiences responded well to the broad, lame comedy of Hawaiian buddy movie Get a Job and the lazy feel-good redemption arc of drama The Encore of Tony Duran. That stuff is common in Hollywood movies, and the problem with translating it to small-scale indie productions is that you’re left with all of the bland predictability and none of the big-budget pizzazz. The comedy Virgin Alexander, written and directed by Vegas-based husband-and-wife team Sean Fallon and Charlotte Barrett and starring Rick Faugno of Jersey Boys, was technically impressive for a pseudo-local production (it was shot in New York state), but similarly settled for weak jokes and sloppy plotting over something more original.
The documentaries, too, were mostly bland, slick productions, with back-patting takes on extreme outdoor sports (the Ski Channel-sponsored The Story) and anti-bullying initiatives (Finding Kind, which doubles as a promotion for the charity the Kind Campaign). It’s hard to be too critical of the messages on display in these movies, but as pieces of filmmaking they’re little more than well-made commercials.
At least the audience didn’t buy into the prurient torture porn of Behind Your Eyes, a grim dirge of a horror movie that drew more than a few unintended laughs with its over-the-top self-importance, and reminded me of the straight-to-video-style approach that dominated the festival last year.
The most interesting filmmaking showed up in the shorts programs, which allowed for more diversity. I was impressed by the low-key humor of The Secret Friend, the naturalistic drama of Small Change and the high-concept urban fantasy of Misdirection far more than anything I saw in the selection of features. If Kostelecky can capture more of that spirit next time—and work out the scheduling snafus—the LVFF might finally live up to its role models.