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CineVegas: The film festival that brought the A-list to town

Updated June 12, 2024 - 4:42 pm

Celebrities didn’t exactly need a reason to head to the Palms in the mid- 2000s — TMZ could’ve set up a bureau there given all the headline names that frequented the place — but CineVegas gave them one anyway.

The film festival debuted Dec. 10, 1998, at Bally’s with the world premiere of “Star Trek: Insurrection.” It moved next door to Paris Las Vegas the following year before settling into its permanent home at the Palms in 2002.

Things really took off the next year. Hunter S. Thompson made what was billed as his first trip to the city since 1971 and his “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” days for the premiere of the documentary “Breakfast With Hunter.” The famed gonzo journalist skipped a panel discussion and reportedly struck a photographer with a thrown mannequin head before surfacing in time for the screening. Afterward, Thompson attended a pool party at the Palms where, we reported, “he sat, Buddha-style, atop a portable refrigerator in a cabana. He frequently made jungle noises, yipping and grunting.”

Also in 2003, CineVegas presented Dennis Hopper with its Marquee Award. The actor had such a good time, he signed on as chairman of the festival’s creative advisory board and became a one-man publicity machine, coaxing his famous friends to attend.

Over the years, CineVegas attracted the likes of Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne Johnson, Dustin Hoffman, Helen Mirren, Christopher Walken, Hunter S. Thompson and Nicolas Cage, before he was a local.

The festival reached its apex in 2007 with award winners Anthony Hopkins, Charlize Theron and Ben Kingsley. A relatively unknown director by the name of Taika Waititi introduced a screening of his first feature, “Eagle vs. Shark.” And George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle and Ellen Barkin hit the red carpet for a benefit screening of “Ocean’s Thirteen” the night after its U.S. premiere.

The final installment ran June 10-15, 2009, after which CineVegas organizers announced they were putting the festival “on hold” because of the economic downturn. Despite presenting some films under the CineVegas banner years later at the Las Vegas Film Festival, it never returned in full.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on X.

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