Las Vegas Film Festival Finds New Home in Revitalized Downtown

LVFF Outdoor Film Screening - H 2014
Courtesy of LVFF

LVFF Outdoor Film Screening - H 2014

The seventh annual event, which screened 70 films over five days, was held in downtown Las Vegas for the first time.

For its seventh year, the Las Vegas Film Festival moved from its location at the former Las Vegas Hilton near the strip to downtown Las Vegas.

"This is where it really belongs in Las Vegas," says the fest's executive director Milo Kostelecky. "I can't think of a better place. I've spent years thinking about this — this is exactly where it needs to be."

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A few years ago, downtown Las Vegas would have not been a viable option, as the area had fallen into a state of disrepair. But it's been revitalized in the past two years, and continues to grow at a rapid rate, due largely to the actions of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who is leading a $350 million effort to give the area a major facelift. Hsieh's work, called the Downtown Project, has the goal of creating “the most community-focused large city in the world.”

The neighborhood now has the feel of being on the cusp of a mecca for artists and other young people looking for local culture, similar to the cities of Austin, Texas, or Silver Lake, Calif. It's a climate that matches well with the Las Vegas Film Festival.

The partnership with Zappos, the fest's title sponsor, was paramount in allowing the festival — which ran July 30 to Aug 3 — to move to its new location, say Kostelecky and director of programming West McDowell.

"We're thrilled to be down here, but there were a lot of unknowns," says Kostelecky. "We knew that this year would be a transition — we'd have to learn about this area."

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The festival screened 70 films, ranging from short film showcases to feature indies. Highlights included The Motel Life, which was produced by local company Lola Pictures and shot in Nevada, sci-fi comedy The Infinite Man, Mike Ott's Lake Los Angeles and doc Heaven Adores You, about late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Along with panels like a crowdfunding information session presented by Seed&Spark and Tugg, each day also had an evening event where filmmakers were able to get together at one of the downtown venues to meet and network.

At the awards event at the end of the fest, Lake Los Angeles took the top prize for best feature, plus awards for best cinematography, and best actor for Roberto Sanchez. The best actress award went to Haley Lu Richardson for The Well, and best documentary went to Brent Hodge for A Brony Tale.

The two theaters used for the festival, the Inspire Theatre and Scullery, are just a few months old, and when Kostelecky and McDowell were planning the event, they had to go off of blueprints until the spaces were built. By next year, there will be an additional three venues that can house screenings, including the Zappos 400-seat theater, which Kostelecky says they plan to use for their opening and closing nights.

One of the centerpieces of the fest was an event at Container Park. More than 300 people showed up for the event at the venue that's made completely of stacked shipping containers.

The fest paired seven bands with seven directors, and gave each team a stipend of $500 to make a music video. The videos premiered at the Saturday night event, and prizes were given out to some of the collaborators.

McDowell says the concert and other parties were built into the schedule because of the organizers' desire to get the local community to participate in the fest. They also planned all the events within a few blocks so that everything was completely walkable.

"It was really important to have the right location. Especially with the locals, you have to be able to concentrate the energy," says McDowell. "This year was really ambitious. We had to show them the potential of what it can be, and show them the need for growth."

The full list of winners is below.

Screenplay competition
1st Up in Flames - Jason Kessler
2nd California Desperado - Samuel Tejeda
3rd Hooked - Allen Wolf

Best Short Film Screenplay
Nate Crocker, The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay

Best Feature Screenplay
Jacob Forman & Tom Hammock, The Well

Best Animation
Alexander Gellner, I Am Glad We Can Be Honest About This

Best Music Video
Clement Oberto, Matin Lunaire

Best Wild Card
Elisha Yaffe, Bad Dog

Best Documentary
Brent Hodge, A Brony Tale

Best Local Cinema Short Film
Clinton Cornwell, A New Leaf

Best Student Comedy
Alex Italics, Sheltered Love

Best Student Drama
Gareth Dunnet-Alcoce, Contrapelo

Outstanding Direction by a Woman Filmmaker
Serene Meshel-Dillman, Getting To The Nutcracker

Best Actress
Haley Lu Richardson, The Well

Best Actor
Roberto Sanchez, Lake Los Angeles

Best Short Film
Robert Rugan, Danny and the Wild Bunch

Best International Short Film
Marie-Helene Viens & Philippe Lupien, Bernard Le Grand

Best Cinematography
Mike Gioulakis, Lake Los Angeles

Best Feature
Mike Ott, Lake Los Angeles