Vegas Cine Fest escapes ‘net, lands at Tropicana

Online to on the Strip — in three years.

That’s the route the Vegas Cine Fest film festival has followed on its way to today’s debut at the Tropicana.

The festival will present more than 50 features, shorts and documentaries during its three-day run, which includes panel discussions and themed parties at the Tropicana’s Nikki Beach club.

Screenings begin at 11 a.m. today and run through Saturday evening, followed by an awards ceremony and post-awards bash.

Red carpet arrivals for tonight’s world premiere of the dark comedy "Some Guy Who Kills People" include star Barry Bostwick, director Jack Perez and executive producer John Landis ("National Lampoon’s Animal House," "The Blues Brothers").

In addition, Landis directed the festival’s closing feature, "Burke and Hare," a comedic look at the infamous 19th-century British grave robbers, featuring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.

"Burke and Hare," which is scheduled to open in theaters next month, has been on the festival circuit since it opened last year’s New York Film Festival.

"For a filmmaker to even get his film shown is terribly difficult," notes Landis, who’s receiving a lifetime achievement award from Vegas Cine Fest. As a result, he adds, film festivals have "evolved into an essential way of establishing and selling movies," for experienced filmmakers and newcomers alike.

Helping emerging filmmakers find a showcase for their work played a major role in creating Vegas Cine Fest , according to festival director Philip Marcus, a Las Vegas-based producer and director.

During an annual trek to France’s Cannes film festival with his wife, Maria, they noted how little Cannes offered "in terms of independent or short films," Marcus recalls, especially "for emerging filmmakers."

So they put together an online contest "for emerging screenwriters" in 2008; by last year, it was named "one of the top five emerging film competitions in the U.S.," he notes.

And "that really encouraged us" to transform the online competition into a full-fledged festival, Marcus says, combining screenings with panel discussions and parties.

Saturday morning’s panel, for example, features Perez and two other festival filmmakers: Noah Hutton (whose documentary "More to Live For" screens at 7 p.m. Friday) and James Redford, whose short "Quality Time, an award winner in last year’s online festival, shows at 11 a.m. Saturday. (Both filmmakers are in the family business; Hutton is the son of actors Timothy Hutton and Debra Winger, and you might also have heard of Redford’s actor-director dad, Robert.)

But Hutton won’t only be participating in panel discussions and a question-and-answer session following his own screening; he plans to join festival attendees in the audience.

"My favorite part is not being there for my film, but sitting in the theater all day" and watching movies, he says. "Film festivals give you a window into a world of film you just never get at your local multiplex."

Although "people coming from all over the world" will visit Las Vegas for Cine Fest, Marcus notes, "we’ve made a price point that’s extremely affordable — especially for locals."

Individual tickets range from $7.50 (for "Quality Time" and Friday’s world premiere of the documentary short "Sometimes When We Touch: The Making of Manny Pacquiao") to $10 for "Somebody Who Kills People."

Panels are $20; festival passes are $20 for a one-day pass, $35 for a two-day pass and $160 for a locals’ pass to all screenings, parties and the awards ceremony. (Complete festival schedule and ticket information is available online at www.vegascinefest.com.)

As "Hollywood becomes more and more corporate," Landis says, festivals such as Vegas Cine Fest take on greater importance — for audiences and filmmakers alike.

"It’s ironic," Landis says, noting that "as technology makes it simpler to make a film, the business structure of exhibition" makes it "terribly difficult" for "a filmmaker to get his film shown."

Still, Hutton reasons, "the access to technology is one thing, but a good story needs to come into the equation. Good storytelling is as rare as it ever was."

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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