"Gook"

Las Vegas Film Festival’s Cinematic Selections

Director of programming West McDowell on the must-see flicks

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version.

The Las Vegas Film Festival has been elevating the Valley’s cinephile scene for a decade now, offering enthusiasts a multitude of movies varying in style, substance, genre and length—all with the goal to push cinematic boundaries through screenings of films produced by unique storytellers.

And that’s exactly what’s on tap for LVFF this year, as the 10th annual installment—held exclusively at Brenden Theatres inside Palms Resort Casino—will screen flicks that have received significant buzz on the film-festival circuit, music videos that might just lift the genre to new levels, and movies that will make filmmakers rethink how to tell a story.

LVFF director of programming West McDowell spoke with Vegas Seven about the films he’s most excited to screen, a music video featuring a well-known bass guitarist and the festival’s continued support for local filmmakers.

Feature Films

The festival will screen six full-length films this year, from comedic dramas such as 10 Days (For Now) to horror flicks such as Still/Born. McDowell says he’s most excited to include Gook, which received the Next Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Justin Chon, the film follows two Korean-American brothers who team up with an African-American teen to defend their family shoe store during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“The heart of Gook is about [meeting] people and not understanding them,” McDowell says. “The message in it is very important and would only help the community if they were to register that. That was important to us.”

Short Films

McDowell says LVFF programmed the four short-film screenings this year with the intent to present a wide variety of films (including live-action, animation and music videos), while keeping a particular theme in mind. “[They] are very specific, programmed experiences. … Wednesday’s shorts are a little more rowdy, a little more about the culture that the [festival] champions as [its] mission.”

For those interested in supporting films and filmmakers with ties to Las Vegas, Thursday’s screening promises cinematic offerings with a local focus—including brothers Mike and Jerry Thompson’s “Spare the Ones That Weep” music video featuring Mark Stoermer, bass guitarist for homegrown band The Killers. And as for the last two? “Friday and Saturday are our storytelling blocks. [Those nights are] probably going to be more of an uplifting, lighthearted adventure.”

Documentaries

Two docs will screen at LVFF this year: a short titled The Rabbit Hunt, which focuses on young men experiencing the rite of passage of rabbit hunting in the Florida Everglades, and feature-length doc California Dreams.

The latter, according to McDowell, explores “a hybrid narrative style [of] filmmaking that [film festival] programmers are starting to see come up.” While he’s quick to take back his original comparison to “an evolution [of] reality television,” he adds, “it’s a documentary, but it’s also a hybrid. It’s really exciting seeing people test the different ways to tell stories and experience movies.”

Community Programming

LVFF continues its mission to partner with filmmakers at local universities this year, offering separate short-film showcases screening works produced by students at the College of Southern Nevada, UNLV and Nevada State College.

“The interesting thing about these college showcases is that these are the same college showcases that I participated in,” says McDowell, who received his BFA in film from UNLV. “[It’s] very important to us that we’re offering that same experience for them.”

Festival Labs

In addition to partnering with local institutions to show student films, LVFF also puts on “labs” throughout the festival to offer film students hands-on, real-world opportunities to produce films. With its Music Video Lab, LVFF connects local bands with local filmmakers to produce flicks for one of the band’s tracks. This year’s musical groups include Scartoon, Juan Flores, Rabid Young, The Van Der Rohe, The Musket Vine and REIGN-A.

With its Young Cinema Lab Mission program, LVFF partnered with Downtown bookstore The Writer’s Block to teach screenwriting to kids. The festival then helped turn the screenplays into short films, offering UNLV students a shot behind the camera to bring the stories to life. “It’s a beautiful component that we’re going to keep going. And, in some cases, [the labs are] more attractive, from a local standpoint, than even the film festival itself.”

Las Vegas Film Festival

June 6–11, times vary, single tickets $11, festival pass $75, VIP festival pass $175, Brenden Theatres inside Palms Casino Resort, lvff.com

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