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Shannon OnstotCINEVEGAS 2007

Shannon Onstot
Community Relations Manager
KUNV 91.5 FM
University of Nevada Las Vegas


CineVegas 2007

This being my first experience with the CineVegas Film Festival, I was a bit overwhelmed with the amount of films and special events open to me. I guess I got a little too excited and unrealistically chose 23 films that I wanted to attend. I painstakingly narrowed my list down to about 15…and then ended up going to six. Here are some of my observations and the best and worst moments in film I experienced.

The first film I saw was one of the best, and has just been named the best film of the La Proxima Ola series. Malos Habitos (Bad Habits) was written and directed by Simon Bross. The film was visually stunning and well written. Though there was little dialogue, the intricate storyline following the eating habits of three women was told mainly through facial expressions and fantastic body language. The only criticism I had during the entire film was that it is written and directed by a male, but the film is told from 3 females’ perspectives. I thought that the director did an okay job with understanding the way that women’s minds work, but some of the emotional attachments to food, religion, family, and love seemed to be lost in translation. Overall, this is one of my favorite new foreign films and is one that everyone can enjoy.

Next, I saw Viva, a satirical tribute piece mimicking 1970s sexploitation films. This was the only film I saw that was written and directed by a woman, and I was surprised to see that the satirical tone was not quite strong enough to be a statement against the degradation of women in those films, and it also didn’t really glorify the women’s lib movement. This film was caught in some strange place between poking fun, and glorifying those campy films of the 70s. Writer and director Anna Biller also starred in the film, and attended the screening with the majority of her cast. I was surprised by how beautiful and eloquent Biller is, especially after watching two hours of her “pouty face” that made her seem completely vacant. All in all, Viva had a few funny moments, but it was entirely too long and was unbearably annoying after the first ten minutes. I think this would have made a spectacular short film

Eagle vs. Shark was by far my favorite film of the festival, and I’m predicting that it will be the sleeper hit of the summer. Taika Cohen wrote and directed the nerdy romantic comedy, and cracked the audience up in his appearance to answer questions about the Sundance hit. Unfortunately, Eagle vs. Shark been lumped into a category with Napoleon Dynamite, and probably won’t be able to break free of that comparison. I have a lot to say about this quirky little gem, so I saved some of my opinions for a more detailed analysis in a review.

Giuseppe Andrews seemed to be around every corner at CineVegas, but he didn’t even attend the event. The young actor has become an avant garde filmmaker, and also appeared in two other CineVegas films this year (Look and Careless). I saw Garbanzo Gas, Andrews’ film featured as part of Area 52, a haven for the strangest and most controversial films of the festival. Andrews was not at the screening to answer questions, but one of the actors from the film as well as producer Adam Rifkin were in attendance. Rifkin, the director of Detroit Rock City and Look, the Grand Jury Selection of CineVegas, explained a little about Giuseppe Andrews and why he made this film. Andrews is a “cinephile” and loves all things movies. Rifkin had a conversation with him about how anyone can make a movie now with easy access to the necessary technology, and he bought him a digital camcorder. Andrews took Rifkin’s words very seriously and began making films featuring the residents of the trailer park he calls home.

Garbanzo Gas was preceded by a short film starring Andrews called Cat Piss, about an old man living in a trailer park. The old man yells at his broken television and has some serious health problems. Andrews’ character helps the old man out and learns a few things from him too. The film was short and sweet, but didn’t entirely prepare the audience for what they were going to experience in Garbanzo Gas. The film is meant as a surreal tribute to PETA and follows the stories of people staying in, and visiting a small motel. One of the motel visitors is a cow, and he has won an all expense paid stay in the motel courtesy of the slaughterhouse. The plot has a few twists and turns, especially when it comes to certain characters committing murders at the bidding of inanimate objects. Old Man Tyree, the subject of quite a few of Andrews’ films, goes on a killing spree because his orthopedic shoe told him to. The old man spews the vilest and most disgusting language out of his mouth, and had me wheezing with laughter. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in a film before.

Keep in mind that this film is not for the faint of heart, in fact, about 40 percent of the audience walked out of the film. Rifkin explained that Andrews uses dialogue and outrageous plots as his form of special effects, because he can’t afford to incorporate real ones into his films, so the dialogue has some real shock value. Another interesting point that Rifkin discussed after the film was that because most of Andrews’ cast is made up of drug addicts, homeless people and alcoholics, he had to feed the lines one-by-one to the actors, and only shoot each scene once. It seems that Andrews is willing to put a lot of hard work into his films, and the outcome is actually very well edited and well written. All the little production foibles (like botched lines and shots where you can see the cameraman in the background) add to the experience and hilarity. Giuseppe had a lot of people, including myself, comparing him to a young John Waters and even going so far as to say that Andrews has created an entirely new way of making a film.

Careless was my biggest disappointment of the film festival. Directed by Peter Spears and featuring a great cast (Colin Hanks, Rachel Blanchard, Tony Shalhoub), the film had great promise and a pretty good storyline. Unfortunately, I thought it was poorly written and poorly acted by all but Shalhoub. Hanks’ character finds a severed finger on his kitchen floor, then meets the girl who he thinks lost it (Blanchard). To spice up his mediocre life he enlists the help of his father (Shalhoub) and best friend Mitch (Fran Kranz) to figure out how she lost it and why it ended up in his kitchen.

The last film I saw was Rocket Science, written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz of the documentary Spellbound. This film followed the story of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a small-fry high school student who has a sever stutter and has just been suckered into joining the debate team. The girl who coaxes him into joining is Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), a fast talking, take charge debate team star who is looking for the perfect team mate. The film is a “neurotic anti-love story” and is superbly written. The acting is also very good, and Kendrick and Thompson both wowed me with their talent. Unfortunately, I must venture to say that this film will not gain a very large following. The premise of the story, while well written, is not strong enough to draw viewers and while overall the film was great, I wouldn’t say it was spectacular and didn’t make any sort of lasting impression on me.

So, I saw some very strange, lackluster, surprising, and fantastic films. In fact, my impressions of CineVegas as a whole were surprising. I was most surprised by the lack of films written, directed or even starring women. My impressions of CineVegas are that of a boys club, where even the commercials and sponsors encourage debauchery and glorify aggressive male egos. I’m starting to get tired of the “Hey, this is Vegas,” excuse. Hopefully next year women will be more respected and well represented as filmmakers, writers and heroines.

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