Landis’ insight shows potential of Cinefest

Smaller, less successful and less interesting film festivals continue to try to fill the gaping cultural void left by the death of CineVegas. Last weekend it was the Vegas CineFest’s turn.

The three-day celebration of film, in the conference center at the Tropicana, may have been poorly named, but if Saturday’s showing of Burke and Hare was any indication, this is the first fest in a while that at least has the potential to make itself into an exciting weekend for cinema lovers.

The film, directed by John Landis, is a dark comedy based on the true story of two grave robbers in Scotland in the 1820s that would also murder people and sell their corpses to medical schools. Shot digitally for $6 million, the production value was well above the budget, a testament to the director. Landis, known for his great comedies (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places), has always been an underrated technical director because the laughs are king in his films. But he has a good visual style and the mood of the film is clearly set with the look and color palette.

Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings), who never gets enough credit for his acting, and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) play the title characters, making few if any apologies for the foul affairs. It’s a fun, breezy film, not the type you need to rush out and see in the theater, but certainly worth a watch on cable (which is where you’ll find it since it was never released theatrically in the U.S.)

The coup of the fest was actually getting Landis there. He spoke to the audience for more than an hour after the movie and gave probably the most honest presentation I’ve ever seen a film figure provide at one of these events. Of the film he was there to promote, he said the producers softened it, that his cut was even darker and that it’s only 70 percent of the movie he made.

He humorously presented views on what’s wrong with the film industry, from films not being given a chance to find an audience if they don’t do well in their first weekend (it took Trading Places about a month to go big) to the lack of storytelling in movies because often the only thing that matters is marketing.

It was an insightful look given by one of the true masters, a man who continues to direct even though you are left wondering, “Is he getting the projects he wants?”

While Vegas CineFest had problems with scheduling and attendance, and it might never be able to be as big and bombastic as CineVegas was, this was a good example of what it could be: a weekend that focuses on film and the artists that make them. CineVegas was as much about the parties as the movies, which is why it was a destination fest, even if the actual films were always a mix of quality.

But CineFest should take a cue from the Landis and plan its future accordingly. If they can land a Landis, why not build around it and offer a panel discussion on comedy in film, where it is and where it’s going? Bring in a few more directors, some writers and a couple of actors to discuss the topic. Make this the fest for film lovers, and Vegas CineFest could be the one that finally helps us fill that CineVegas void.

Jason Harris is a local stand-up comedian.