CineVegas is back, but return to glory days unlikely

Subtlety was never CineVegas’ forte.

Exclusive parties, star-studded red carpets and an eclectic mix of films, sure. Taking over the Palms at the height of its Palms-iness, CineVegas created an atmosphere where George Clooney could fly in for a premiere and leave with a yearlong relationship with a cocktail server.

Seriously, that really happened.

So while the announcement that CineVegas would cast off the mothballs to present four films — a fifth was just added — at next week’s Las Vegas Film Festival was among the most understated news ever generated by the fest, it also was among the most welcome. The local film festival scene just hasn’t been the same since the plug was pulled on CineVegas in 2009 as a result of the economic downturn.

“It felt right,” CineVegas President Robin Greenspun says of the decision to revive the festival, even on a much smaller scale, after all this time. “The direction the Las Vegas Film Festival is going in has a feel like CineVegas did. We love that it’s downtown. It just has all the right feelings, and we just decided to go for it.”

“We,” in this case, includes CineVegas alums Trevor Groth and Mike Plante, director of programming and short film senior programmer, respectively, for the Sundance Film Festival.

“For me, Trevor and Mike are key,” Greenspun says of the duo who chose the five films, all of which have CineVegas ties.

The trippy Western “Jauja” (8 p.m. Aug. 16) stars Viggo Mortensen, winner of the festival’s 2008 Half-Life Award. The comedy documentary “Call Me Lucky” (4 p.m. Aug. 15) is directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, whose “World’s Greatest Dad,” starring Robin Williams, closed out the final CineVegas. Oscar-winning documentarian Daniel Junge, another CineVegas alum, directed “Being Evel” (6:30 p.m. Aug. 15), an intimate look at the exploits of daredevil Evel Knievel. And Las Vegas filmmaker Tom Barndt’s new short film, “The Paranormal Idiot,” is being paired with “Giuseppe Makes a Movie” (9 p.m. Aug. 13), a documentary from director Adam Rifkin, who took home the festival’s Grand Jury Prize in 2007. (For a full schedule of the Las Vegas Film Festival, which runs Tuesday through Aug. 16 at the Inspire Theater, 107 Las Vegas Blvd. South, see www.lvff.com.)

“It’s definitely a way for us to dip our toes in, get our toes wet,” Greenspun says of the low-key return, before dropping a major caveat: “You know, we’ll never bring CineVegas back the way it was.”

The way it was was a hotbed for flashbulbs and celebrity sightings. Over the years, CineVegas honored a who’s who of Hollywood, including Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins, Sylvester Stallone, Sean Penn, Helen Mirren, Ben Kingsley, Charlize Theron, Christopher Walken, Anjelica Huston, Laurence Fishburne and James Caan.

But the festival was never bigger than June 6, 2007, when George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia and Ellen Barkin attended a premiere for “Ocean’s Thirteen” that raised $1 million for relief efforts in Darfur. Looking back, Greenspun calls that night “one of the most exhilarating, frustrating, fabulous, wonderful experiences of my life.”

She credits the late Dennis Hopper, who served as the chairman of the festival’s creative advisory board, for much of the festival’s star power. And she cites the actor’s death in 2010 as one of the reasons she doesn’t want it to return to the 10-day marathon it became. Calling him “the spiritual leader of CineVegas,” Greenspun says, “without Dennis Hopper, the heart of it for me is kind of gone a little bit.”

Instead, she and Milo Kostelecky, executive director of the Las Vegas Film Festival, are working to launch an ongoing screening series. And she plans to have an expanded presence at future festivals. “We’ll probably continue to be ‘Cinevegas Presents at the Las Vegas Film Festival,’ because it’s definitely a collaboration. It’s not going to be just CineVegas doing anything at this point.”

Greenspun says Kostelecky has been asking to work with her for years, and it was just a coincidence that she said yes when a film she directed is being presented at the festival.

“Semicolon; The Adventures of Ostomy Girl,” set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, follows former Las Vegan Dana Marshall-Bernstein and the 25-year-old’s struggle since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 4. After years of treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, Marshall-Bernstein recently moved to Ohio to be closer to the hospital.

“She lives in the hospital almost as much as she lives out of the hospital now. But she has an astonishing and wicked sense of humor, and that’s what the movie shows, too,” Greenspun says. “For me, the movie shows more than just a young woman with a disease that people don’t know about. It’s about a young woman, the relationship she has with her mother and her family, and how they get through it day by day using humor, using whatever tools they can find.”

“Semicolon” isn’t nearly the downer audiences may expect, she stresses. “It’s a sad story in many ways, but it’s really a fulfilling and happy and funny movie in many ways.”

Greenspun will remain involved with CineVegas as much as possible, but she’s handing over the majority of the work to Kostelecky and his team.

“It’s really them, now,” she says. “And for us, that’s the best to kind of have the next iteration of CineVegas coming to life through the Las Vegas Film Festival.”

Besides, she jokes, “I have to say, it’s a lot of fun having someone else have to really worry about all the hard parts.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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