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By Jacqueline Monahan
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CineVegas XI:  Six Days of Cinema Hosted by The Palms Casino Resort

The 11th Annual CineVegas Film Festival was held on June 10-15, 2009, at the Palms Casino Resort and Brenden Theatres in Las Vegas.

Signaling the start of this year’s Festival was the cinematic flare gun (and world premiere) of Hue Rhodes’ Saint John of Las Vegas, which screened at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino’s Chi Showroom on June 10.  Starring Steve Buscemi as John, an ex-gambler-turned fraud investigator who must return to Las Vegas to investigate an insurance claim, the film follows his exploits which entail: receiving a lap dance from a wheelchair-bound Vegas stripper, meeting carnival freak Smitty the Flaming Torch, encountering naked survivalists and escaping from a homicidal junkyard owner.

Notables in the audience included Dennis Hopper, actor and chair of the CineVegas Creative Advisory Board, actress/comedian Sarah Silverman, one of the film’s co-stars, and Danny Greenspun, representing his wife and CineVegas President Robin, who was out of state, about to become a grandmother.  Candy bars, popcorn and soft drinks were provided for guests.

That was the first day.  Moving back to home-base at the Palms, where the Key West room had been converted to a colorful headquarters (CVHQ) for attendees, sponsor products were provided on a daily basis.  Not bad, when the sponsor is Grey Goose vodka, Fiji water and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf beverages.  CVHQ was a favorite hangout between screenings.

Films viewed by your humble correspondent included Beautiful Darling, a documentary on the life of Andy Warhol protégé and cross dresser James Slattery aka Candy Darling, a decadent, tragic Factory principal and actress who died before she was 30;  Lookin’ to Get Out, a 1982 re-released director’s cut from Hal Ashby, filmed in Las Vegas;  Headless Woman, a subtitled journey into a quiet meltdown and recovery; 500 Days of Summer, following unrequited love over the course of a year and a half in the life of a young man; World’s Greatest Dad, a dark comedy about the sometimes lunatic actions of a devoted parent; and Attack of the 50-foot Woman, a 1958 cautionary tale about a woman scorned and her mammoth revenge (not to mention mammaries – oops, I just did).

Your humble correspondent could not get into a screening of Adam, although she had a ticket.  Seems CineVegas overbooks, so I dejectedly turned away from the rumored sure-bet about an astronomical romance, initiated by an outer space light show.

Eight world premieres, also known as “Jackpot Premieres,” were screened at the Festival:
• Rania Ajami’s Asylum Seekers, a story of six people vying for a spot in an asylum;
• Daylight, from David Barker, about a pregnant woman caught in a hostage situation;
• Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Easier with Practice, based on the true story of a writer’s long-distance relationship with a mysterious woman (phone sex, anyone?);

• Etienne!, the story of a man and his best friend, a terminally ill dwarf hamster, from Jeff Mizushima;
• Godspeed, Robert Saitzyk’s Alaskan-set thriller about faith, grief and violence.
• Patrick Hoelck’s love story Mercy, written by and starring Scott Caan (son of James and a 2003 CineVegas winner; 
• Patriotville from Talmage Cooley, a modern tale of greed, corruption, and romantic complications;
• Asiel Norton’s Redland, about a family struggling to survive during the Great Depression.

A cash prize of $10,000 was awarded to the Grand Jury Award Winner for Feature Film.*

Closing night took place on June 14 with the CineVegas Awards Ceremony at Rain Nightclub in the Palms.  This year's honorees included Jon Voight (Marquee Award), and Willem Dafoe (Vanguard Actor Award).*

CineVegas presented a rare, newly re-mastered director's cut of Lookin' To Get Out followed by a special Q&A with Voight. A conversation with Dafoe took place immediately after, followed by a screening of his first starring role in the1982 film The Loveless.

George and Mike Kuchar were given a Vanguard Director’s Award for their unique vision as pioneers of underground cinema.  *(For more extensive coverage of award winners and Conversations with Voight and Dafoe, read Judy Thorburn’s column at

The new CineVegas Day Pass ($40) got you get into 3 films of your choice, Happy Hour at CVHQ and the official evening party, one each night of the Festival.  This year they were held at Prive in Planet Hollywood, Lavo in the Palazzo, The Palms Pool, Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay, The Playboy Club at The Palms, and Sidebar, located downtown, just off of Fremont Street.

A record number of locals attended CineVegas XI, a good sign that the native Vegas population is taking ownership of the Festival.  There’s definitely an alternative kind of Cine in Sin City and it’s unpredictable, shakes you up and takes you for a spin in the dark.  No, you don’t have to stuff tips down its g-string.

It’s CineVegas and it belongs to us.

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