The Flick Chicks

Judy Thorburn

Cinevegas 2004

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Judy Thorburn

CineVegas 2004 - A Buffet of Cimena Treats

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The 6th annual CineVegas Film Festival was held June 11 through June 19, 2004 at the very hip Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  It was my third year in attendance and from my point of view, I am happy to report it was the charm.  With an array of new and classic films, gala evening parties, and celebrity screening tributes on the daily schedule, what more could a film buff want?  Especially, since this year was filled with a very impressive lineup of up-and-coming talent in front of and behind the camera, many of who look like they have a great future in the motion picture industry.


Robin Greenspun

Thanks must go to CineVegas president Robin Greenspun, her husband Danny, of the Greenspun Media Group, and Director of Programming, Trevor Groth for making this year’s festival the best ever. Special this year was the addition of actor/director Dennis Hopper as Chairman of the Creative Advisory Board who was not only an active presence at the festival, but was influential in bringing his celebrity and filmmaker friends such as Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, Holly Hunter, David Lynch, Julian Schnabel, Dean Stockwell, and Bruce Connor to CineVegas to accept awards in honor of their contribution to cinema. Each made an appearance at their film’s screening and spoke in front of the audience about their before leaving the theatre. However, Robin Wright Penn left a bad impression by keeping the audience waiting after her movie “Isn’t She Lovely” had ended. She hadn’t sat through the film, but arrived late after it had ended, and quickly without a word, accepted her Half Life award before making a beeline for the exit. What a way to impress your fans, Mrs. Penn – shame on you! If your Oscar winning, superstar husband can show some grace and sit for a Q& A session after getting HIS Half Life Award, why can’t you, a lesser known star, show some appreciation in receiving an award and thank the audience for coming? Even, Mr. Cool himself, Jack Nicholson made a showing and spoke briefly when accepting his Marquee Award after the 1971 movie that he directed DRIVE, HE SAID, was screened. 


Dennis Hopper

But, ultimately a film festival is about what’s on the screen.  This year film buffs had a plethora of films to choose from.  Categories consisted of highly anticipated world and U.S. premieres, advance screenings of high profile films with U.S. distribution, the best new U.S. and International films seeking distribution, a collection of avant garde movies, shorts, documentaries, and a showcase of films by Nevada filmmakers and students – all of which hope to gather praised word of mouth from audiences that could help market their work – especially if the right people, i.e. distributors, are in attendance. What was neat was having many of the actors and new filmmakers show up at their screenings to talk about the making of their film and to answer questions from the audience.

One of the funniest moments, and a highlight for star-struck fans, was catching late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, and partner in crime, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, talk about their joint venture as producer and director for the hilarious mock reality film "WINDY CITY HEAT", after it was screened. Made to appear as an unscripted joke on their friend, struggling comic Perry Caravello, who desperately wants to be a movie star, the camera follows what is supposedly his big break in landing the star role as detective Stone Fury, in an action movie, WINDY CITY HEAT. Whether Perry was in on the ongoing prank or not, the result is a very funny comedy that had the audience laughing by the hilarious shenanigans Perry was made to endure during the filming, and that humor flowed over into the aftermath Q and A session.

Although none of his filmed novels were screened at the festival, famed novelist James Elroy was present for a revealing discussion about his life and work. During the session titled CONVERSATION WITH JAMES ELROY, a lot was learned about the man who wrote best selling novels L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia.  He openly talked about how his mother’s gruesome murder was a major influence on his creativity, saying “her death corrupted his imagination and gave him a gift”. He “became the guy who overcame his origins and exploited them”.  Self-aggrandizing, with an ego as big as his bank account, he nevertheless is a fascinating character eager to promote his novels and discuss the inner conflicts that drives him to write about murder investigations.


James Elroy - Judy Thorburn

Other highlights of the festival included special screenings of film classics that celebrated the star or master filmmaker.   Dennis Hopper was proud to honor his friend and fellow actor Dean Stockwell with the Changed My Life Award for his role as a 12 year old in the 1948 film THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, a movie way ahead of its time with its anti war message.  Stockwell spoke about the making of the film and how the far right organized a blacklist that included the film’s director Joseph Losey.  Stockwell said that throughout the years people have told him the movie had made a great impact on them.  This included a woman in the audience who stated that when she saw the film as a young girl she was ostracized for being different, and could identify with his character. Now a painter, with a show of collages in Taos, NM, the actor was forthright in giving some insight to his earlier career in movies and the talented directors and actors he worked with. Another classic from the 80’s, Paris Texas, starring Stockwell and Harry Dean Stanton, was also on the calendar.


Dean Stockwell

The Vanguard Director Award was given to three men, Julian Schnabel, David Lynch and Bruce Conner - each leaving a mark on the motion picture industry with their distinct style. Julian Schnabel, who only made two “extraordinary” films was present at the screening of 2000’s BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, which details the oppression of undesirables in Castro’s revolutionary Cuba.  This amazingly biographical film stars Javier Bordem in a tour de force performance as doomed real life homosexual poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990). This was the first time I had seen the movie, and definitely see why Schnabel was recognized as a rare talent whose meticulous direction and vision as an artist is brilliantly expressed on the big screen.

Lynch was introduced by Dennis Hopper to a packed audience following the screening of his debut film, the bizarre ERASERHEAD, as “one of the greatest directors in cinema” and the “first American surrealist filmmaker.  Dean Stockwell was brought down from the audience to join Hopper and the acclaimed director in a seated discussion about what it was like to work with the director. Both Dennis and Dean worked with Lynch on Blue Velvet and Dean said he never did a character as “far out” as Ben (in that film). Asked how John Hurt was cast as The Elephant Man, Lynch said that he felt Hurt was perfect for the role after he saw that the actor had a hairless left arm. The fact is, as grotesquely disfigured as the Elephant Man was; his left arm was the only part of his body that was “perfect”. So as far as Lynch was concerned, Hurt was a perfect fit.  Now, that was an interesting piece of little known movie trivia, movie fans!

My only problem was making all the screenings or being at every event.  There was so much to see and I could only be at one place at a time. Besides, it is not easy sitting hours after hours in a movie theatre.  I don’t care how comfortable the seat is; your butt can only take so much! In any case, I can only report on what I experience first hand at this awesome film fest. The following is my take on the best of the fest and the films I highly recommend to anyone who loves cinema as much as I do.

As I stated, I was very impressed by many of the filmmakers who appear to have a successful career in the making. When the Filmmaker Awards were given out at a special closing day luncheon at Postrio Restaurant in the Venetian Hotel, I tended to agree with the choices, for the most part.


The Cast of "The Talent Given Us"

The Jury prize was handed to writer/director Bruce Wagner for “THE TALENT GIVEN US”, a scripted mock reality style documentary that follows the cross-country SUV trek by his real life parents, Judy and Allen Wagner, and sisters Maggie and Emily on their way to visit estranged son Bruce in California. It’s a humorous and heartwarming take on a not so unusual dysfunctional, but loving, family with their ups and downs that everyone can relate to.


Bruce Wagner

The Audience Award went to one of my personal favorites, “CROSS BRONX”, written and directed by Larry Golin. This very talented 28 year old delivers a gritty and emotional coming of age story about four lifelong friends from Westchester who move into a less than desirable apartment in the Bronx and proceed to take very different paths in life. With superb acting by the four leads, Max Greenfield, Badge Dale, Jerry Ferrara, and Nashawn Kearse and striking cinematography by Danny Arranyo (who won top honors for HD video achievement at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival in NY) I hope this film gets the distribution it deserves.


Larry Golin

I had a chance to connect with the young filmmaker, and he was so honored by the response and award his film was getting.  Larry told me that he was excited in finding out that “Cross Bronx” was accepted at the Venice Film Festival, and has other works in progress such an upcoming HBO project and is working with Robert De Niro and other name stars in future endeavors. He told me that he is in meetings with major film distributors. I would assume that one should soon get on the wagon and have Cross Bronx released nationally if they know what’s good.  Larry already has a resume that includes projects ranging from documentaries to studio, cable films and HBO, and the Rocky Marciano Story. If Cross Bronx is an example of what the future has in store for this unassuming, gifted filmmaker, Golin’s talent should take him far.   Remember his name!


John Harkrider

Honorable Mention Jury Award went to “Mitchellville”, a thought provoking psychological look into the mind of a guilt ridden corporate lawyer.  His attempts to make a horrible wrong right through his complex dreams are revealed during sessions with his therapist.  Writer/director, John Harkrider cast himself as the star of this very imaginative and well-written, beautifully photographed script.  It is interesting to note that Harkrider attended law school and became a Wall Street lawyer for the sole purpose of financing this film. His time and money did not go to waste, and I highly recommend this movie.

Other films that I recommend are:

“D.E.B.S”, a very funny campy spoof of the Charlie’s Angels TV and film franchise, with an unusual girl meets girl twist. First time feature film director Angela Robinson told me that this opening night comedy, which originated as a short film for the 2003 Sundance film Festival, was shot in 28 days on a measly budget of only $3.5 million. But, her career is on the rise since signing on to direct her next film, with a $60 million budget - an updated remake of The Love Bug starring Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls).   You go girl!

LURKING IN SUBURBIA – amazingly shot with only one camera by cinematographer Abe Levy, writer/director Mitchell Altieri makes an impressive feature film debut with his quirky, but well written coming of age story of a single male and his wacky group of friends during his 30th birthday celebration in suburbia.  The cast, led by Joe Egender, is great.  But, keep your eyes open for Samuel Child, who has the entire package of teen idol good looks plus fresh talent that Hollywood loves!


Cast of "Lurking in Suburbia"

ZATOICHI – Though not as well known in America, Zatoichi (Japanese for “The Chosen One”) is a new version of a popular Japanese character portrayed in more than 25 films and 100 TV episodes.  If you are a fan of the Matrix or Japanese samurai warrior films, this is a must see. Director/writer Takeshi Kitano combines elements of humor, action and even a musical dance number within a thoroughly entertaining story of a blind, masseuse/skilled swordsman with a penchant for gambling, when he isn’t fighting for the underdog. 

MARMALADE- A touching, humorous and revealing look inside the world of modeling as experienced by a beautiful woman who finds herself considered “over the hill” at the still young age of 32.  Co-written by Director Kim Dempster, who co-stars with her lead and writing partner Jill Sorensen, both professional models, it sends a very real message about the superficial importance of looks over substance.

THE GRAFFITI ARTIST- follows the world of a young skateboarding street kid whose life revolves around making his artistic mark on walls from Portland to Seattle.  When he become involved in a relationship with another tagger, it becomes a test of opposing ethics and ideologies. There is very little dialogue, but the intense young actors, Ruben Bansie-Snellman and Pepper Fajans, do a great job in this brooding study of two characters in today’s subculture.

LUCK-   If you know anyone who is addicted to gambling, this very real study of people who don’t know when to quit, will hit home.  The story centers on one young man (Luke Kirby) who is willing to risk everything, including the girl of his dreams (Sarah Polley), when it comes to his obsession.  Luck is disturbing, smart, and funny with a next twist at the end.

You can travel all over the globe for film festivals.  But, there is no other city like Las Vegas, where the party never stops. Forget Sin City, when CineVegas comes to town, it turns to Cinema City, proving once more why it’s the entertainment capital of the world.