When something grows too fast for its own good, the results are never guaranteed. A native of Las Vegas with a background in the construction business, Milo Kostelecky knows this all too well.
“As a city we’ve grown so fast that we forgot to really think about everybody that is living, working and building their families here,” he says. “Sometimes we get so carried away with expansion and forget what is at the core of it all—community.”
Kostelecky is keeping this in mind as director of operations for the Las Vegas Film Festival. But it is tempting for the 33-year-old, who has only been running the organization for seven months, to move fast. With recession-related issues having forced the town’s marquee film fest, CineVegas, to be put on hold after an 11-year run, the door has been left open for the 3-year-old underdog event to move in.
Kostelecky has used the opportunity to reach out to potential corporate and community sponsors, landing locally based Allegiant Air and Rubio’s Mexican Grill to help back this year’s festival (June 4-6 at the Las Vegas Hilton). He also hopes to expand its recognition, which has been relatively quiet heretofore. But mostly it’s about “filling the void” left by CineVegas’ absence at a pace that’s best for the long run.
“We are taking our time growing the festival using a grassroots approach,” he says. “Instead of trying to be the biggest festival possible, my concentration is to make people feel like they are a part of it every step of the way.”
His film festival won’t try to compete with CineVegas’ celeb-studded red carpet and fancy parties, but there will be parties and peripheral events. Kostelecky says his festival—which kicks off with the Las Vegas premiere of Holy Rollers (see review here) at 7 p.m. June 4—will have a totally different vibe. For one thing, those events are wide open to the general public. Secondly, “It’s about culture,” he says—both the culture of making movies and of being exposed to the results.
“We want the work of the filmmakers to speak for itself,” he says, “and with that we feel bigger audiences will come.”
Sounds like a tough mission, but festival director James Mulidore, the driving force for the first two years, says Kostelecky is the right man to build the tradition.
“He’s a Vegas guy, like myself, but he also knows everybody,” Mulidore says. “He’s been huge this year, securing our venue, bringing in sponsors, setting up the parties and being a part of the programming. He’s a super person, and he can do anything he sets his mind to.”
But what is Kostelecky’s ability to spearhead the day-by-day operations of a major film festival? During an interview with him in that quintessential Las Vegas cultural setting—Starbucks—it quickly becomes clear that he is a knowledgeable fan of independent cinema, documentaries and festivals. But he’s essentially a construction development and marketing guy who ran out of work. Kostelecky sips a tall coffee and tells his story.
After he graduated Bishop Gorman High School, he left town to attend Arizona State, where he studied business and sociology. He returned home in 2000 to start a career in construction. This is where he wants to be, he decided. He repeats over and over about how “amazing” Las Vegas is and the “potential” it has. His face lights up when talking about how much he enjoyed growing up in a place that was constantly expanding. He loved being a part of that.
One of his past jobs was director of operations with Third Eye, a company that documents the step-by-step construction process of large-scale buildings, including the Wynn.
“Few people understand the effort, the collaboration and the minds that go into building these large projects,” Kostelecky says. “It’s phenomenal.”
A stagnant construction market led him to where he is now, and maybe it’s not so far removed. He talks about how his passion for construction is like that felt by writers, directors and producers as they work on projects. It is evidently also the same feeling that film festival directors have for their events.
“There’s a universal passion that carries throughout,” Kostelecky says. “It’s about watching a project from start to finish, making sure things are done correctly.”
The Las Vegas Film Festival has been running on a loss its first two years, Mulidore says. With Kostelecky in charge, he has reason to believe this year will be different. There are now partnerships with key programs—including Nevada Public Radio, the Nevada Film Office, the Las Vegas School of Film and the Nevada Film Alliance—that will multiply community involvement.
Some of that involvement is direct, such as the short films by UNLV students that will be screened on June 5, and the ones shown by College of Southern Nevada students the following day. Four other blocks of short films and music videos will be shown, many of which are thesis projects from all over the world.
“That is where it all starts,” Kostelecky says. “They are the unsung heroes of filmmaking. Sometimes an entire year of film school goes into those films; as a result they all have so much energy.”
Overall, the festival received nearly 1,000 film submissions. Of those, seven features, six documentaries and more than 30 short films will play. The chosen lineup definitely has diversity (see below), but it might seem odd, for example, to see a documentary that has already aired on Showtime (Stripped) and a CineVegas winner that can found at your video store (Godspeed). But Kostelecky’s response is “talent is talent,” and he is always happy to help give talented filmmakers exposure.
That’s what film festivals are about, he says: helping movies find their audiences, while helping audiences find films.
“Once a year in our film festival, you have the opportunity to see great pieces of work and what brilliant writers and directors of all ages are working on,” Kostelecky says.
The thread that ties the wide spectrum of works together seems to be the human condition. Most of the films strive to educate or share messages on how people from different walks of life deal with life’s issues and tragedies. Kostelecky perceives this as “an opportunity to see what is happening in the world. People can educate themselves, and that is the great part about bringing it to the masses.”
All this culture takes place at two showrooms—the Hilton Theater, whose capacity is 1,700, and the Shimmer Cabaret, whose 200 seats accommodate the event’s smaller screenings. In true Vegas style, these venues also give audiences a chance to enjoy cocktails with their movies.
Mulidore, a third-generation Las Vegan, is happy with the location because the Hilton is an off-Strip property that still offers Vegas glitz and glamour, and it’s also the city’s home to independent cinema all year round with the recent addition of the Giordano Theatre. But he also has a personal connection to the grand old Hilton Theater, whose illustrious past includes the 18 years Mulidore’s father, Jimmy, was the musical director. In that very same showroom, his dad not only booked the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Elvis Presley, he also conducted the orchestras that backed them.
“It’s amazing that it’s coming around full circle,” Mulidore says. “My dad, he’s not one to show much of a reaction, but when he found out, it put a smile on his face.”
That’s what Kostelecky likes to hear. And so sustaining those kinds of cultural ties and fostering that type of tradition is exactly what he hopes the Las Vegas Film Festival does.
“If I can touch the community,” he says, “and have them say, ‘Wow, that was really great. I am so glad somebody is doing that.’ At the very end of the day, I can feel there is more to it than movies. I think everybody gets so carried away with money they can make or focusing on the individual instead of focusing on the city and offering something that can make people happy. Our name represents the city. We are the Las Vegas Film Festival. We want this to be something all Las Vegas residents can feel proud about.”
The Las Vegas Film Festival offers a weekend of inspiring and thought-provoking movies about different walks of life. Writer Chad Clinton Freeman has two film recommendations, plus three he’s looking forward to seeing for the first time:
If you haven’t seen David Palmer’s documentary that follows photographer Greg Freidler as he shoots his latest book, Naked Las Vegas, it’s worth a look. Although neither Palmer nor Freidler try as hard as they could have to truly capture the truth behind the clothes of Sin City, viewers do get to see a lot of nudity and meet some interesting people. In the end, though, most of the folks stripping away their clothes seem to either have something to prove or something to promote.
Robert Saitzyk’s thriller won a special jury award at CineVegas last year and can be found on DVD via Lightyear, but its cinematography makes it worth seeing on the big screen. Starring Joseph McKelheer, Courtney Halverson and Cory Knauf, Godspeed takes place in the Alaskan wilderness and dabbles with religious cults, incest, rape, revenge and violence.
Sin Ella (Without Her)
Jorge Colon’s new film seems to be really connecting with audiences. The drama, starring Luis Roberto Guzmán and Lola Dueñas, tells the story of a workaholic reality TV show producer and how he copes with the loss of his wife, while still being there for his teenage daughter and younger son. (In Spanish with subtitles.)
The One Last Time
Award-winning filmmaker Scott Weintrob is best known for directing music videos for Our Lady Peace, but this eight-minute film playing during the second block of shorts on June 5 sounds like a must-see. Starring Hakeem Kae-Kazim, The One Last Time features two groups of Halloween-mask wearing robbers encountering each other trying to hold up the same bank at the same time.
Billy Bob Thornton narrates Tim VandeSteeg’s award-winning documentary about a man and the two incredible journeys he takes after he loses his wife to breast cancer. First Terry Hitchcock raises his three children on his own. Twelve years later, he runs 75 consecutive marathons in 75 consecutive days and becomes known as a real-life Forrest Gump.