Seven Cinematic Highlights from the Las Vegas Film Festival

The 10th annual Las Vegas Film Festival coaxed movie junkies off their Netflix-punished couches and into the theater, where films are meant to be watched—on the big screen and in surround sound. While we can’t mention every naughty short, tearjerker, panel discussion or lab from the six-day event at Brenden Theatres inside Palms Casino Resort, here are seven cinematic highlights worth noting.

UNLV Showcase

Film students from the College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College and UNLV presented work during three separate showcases, and it turns out there are some Scorseses-in-the-making in Nevada. Many of the featured films at the UNLV showcase were comedies such as Tyler Yarbro’s Stacy Sandoval, in which a young man discovers his mom masturbates while thinking about him after visiting a fortune teller, or The Talk (also by Yarbro), which features a young man who comes out to his dad as gay for his clone.

A few UNLV students tackled documentaries. Johann Rucker and Vincent Briscoes’ Mom + Doc shared intimate kitchen-table conversations with their mothers, and Robert Machado’s Chasing the Games was an inside look at a professional CrossFit athlete. UNLV student Dante, who when asked what he learned at film school said “nothing”—and that he instead learned from filmmaking masters Kubrick and Lynch—was the only student who took a darker approach. His short, Atlas, depicts a sociopath captured in dramatic shadows on a possessed killing spree. It ends with a nod to one of Dante’s “teachers” as the killer sits with a demented Kubrick-stare in the center of the shot.—Jessie O’Brien

“Pussy”

Wednesday’s Shorts Block

The sex and violence continued into the first shorts block on Wednesday afternoon, and wildcard Pussy by Renata Gasiorowska set the tone. The funny animated short is about a girl who decides to spend a romantic night home alone, but her lady bits decide to take matters into its own hands. Other highlights include Celine Held and Logan George’s Mouse, in which a coked-out couple make an irrational attempt at capitalizing upon finding a rotted mouse in a can of baked beans, and the Hot Seat, which depicts an exaggerated real-life event from director Anna Kerrigan in which a young teenage girl tries to impress a group of girls at a birthday party. When a sleazy stripper shows up, she volunteers to sit in the hot seat to sneak a peek—and more—under his banana hammock, earning the respect of her peers after an unfortunate, sticky accident. —J.O.

Where To, Miss?
A selection from March’s Las Vegas Women’s Film Festival, Where To, Miss?, documents the struggle of Devki, a young Indian woman from Delhi who struggles to gain acceptance from her family of her decision to work as a taxi driver. “Where To, Miss? is my search for an answer to the question as to why Indian women find it difficult to free themselves from the structures of society,” says German director Manuela Bastian. Indeed, the film breaks down some of the barriers that make Devki’s experience difficult for us westerners to understand. What’s more: it doesn’t attempt to moralize by vilifying the male figures in her life. Rather, complex relationships with family and culture complicate the idea of “freedom” and deciding one’s own fate. —Shannon Miller

“Get Wed Soon”

Thursday’s Shorts Block

Also seen at Las Vegas Women’s Film Festival, Get Wed Soon lightened the mood in the theater with the story of a quirky girl who rejects her parents’ pressure to find a nice boy to marry and instead takes matters into her own hands. Mary Shelleys Frankengreen, which won the Jury Award for Best Vegas Cinema, also lightened the mood. When a sloppy weed dealer learns that recreational marijuana has been legalized, a hilarious emotional breakdown ensues. Representing Las Vegas, Iverson portrayed a visual representation of local writer Frank Johnson’s poem of the same name. Johnson explained, “[AIlen Iverson is] a perfect hero for black folks because so often our success is not determined just by our ability perform but also how well we conform to the standard accepted image.” In the span of four minutes, Johnson and director Spencer Wilson express human transcendence through athletic perseverance. —S.M.

“Spare the Ones that Weep”

Friday’s Shorts Block

With a minimalist cast of two, Cuddle Buddy was a study of depression, self-imposed isolation and the healing power of cuddling. “Joy Joy Nails” covered group and power dynamics in the close quarters of a nail shop staffed by both westernized and “fresh off the boat” Asian employees. A two-part music-video story Spare the Ones that Weep (Remix) and Fingerspitzengefühl (Remix) stole the show. Plot-driven by a remix of The Killers’ bassist Mark Stoermer’s song by the same title, “Spare the Ones” shows a florist at war with a very convincing demon (played by Mystère acrobat Ross Gibson in body paint by Skin City Body Painting). “Fingerspitzengefühl” follows up with the demon, whose discovery of arranged flowers can be likened to Prometheus’ discovery of fire. —S.M.

Young Cinema Lab Showcase

Young Cinema Lab is a program held at The Writer’s Block Downtown that teaches kids ages 7–13 how to write and act in their own films. Although this might seem like just a fun extracurricular or hobby, YCL’s organizers see it as opening doors for studying and pursuing careers in film in the future. “[Lack of] exposure is often what keeps children unaware of all their possibilities, and filmmaking as a skill or passion is an asset worth pursuing that many children never get to experience,” said Carrieann Cahall, volunteer YCL film editor and a graduate student in UNLV’s MFA Creative Writing program. After watching the youngsters’ short works—namely Revenge of the Doodle and Traitor Joe’s—draw hearty laughs from the audience (not just the parents), I think every child should have the chance to see their ideas come alive on the big screen. —S.M.

“Landline”

Landline

 The festival closed with Obvious Child director Gillian Robespierre’s second feature-length film, Landline. The comedy starring Jenny Slate, Edie Falco, John Turturro and newbie Abby Quinn follows a New York City family in the mid-’90s before smart phones ruled the world. Two sisters discover that their dad is having an affair, while Dana (Slate), who is engaged, is having one of her own and the younger sister Ali (Quinn), a smart wise-ass, is dipping her toe in the drug and party scene. The moments that captured the era before the internet, such as Dana manually rolling down a car window or using a landline, or Ali throwing a shoe at a skipping CD player added extra layers to the quirky comedy, making Landline a timely flick, as everyone is nostalgic for Fruitopia, VHS tapes and everything else ’90s. —J.O.


LVFF 2017 Jury Award Winners 

Best Short: Shy Guys, Fredric Lehne

Best Animation: Pussy, Anna Kerrigan

Best Vegas Cinema: Mary Shelleys Fankenweed,  Nick and  Zachary Thomas Byer

Best Music Video: Terror, Joseph Armario

Best Wildcard: 5 Stages of Dying, Nima Shoghi

Best Documentary: The Rabbit Hunt, Patrick Bresnan

Best Feature: GookJustin Chon

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