The 10th Annual Las Vegas Film Festival kicked off Tuesday June 6th with the opening night feature Lemon and a festival party at the Ghostbar atop the fabled Palms Casino Resort. Lemon, directed by Janica Bravo and featuring Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, and Michael Cera, is actually one of two feature films starring Michael Cera at the festival this year. The other, Person to Person, will be playing tonight at 8 as the “CineVegas Presents” feature.

This year’s Festival is a little different as it’s being held entirely at the Palms Casino Resort, with screenings at the Brenden Theatres, located just inside the casino. In past years the Festival held screenings at Fremont Street’s Inspire Theater and Fremont County Club, with post-screening festivities spread out through downtown’s various bars, clubs, and even the Downtown Container Park. In this respect the Festival in years past very much “took over” parts of downtown for a few days, giving it a loose, fun, “pub crawl”, party type of feel to it which really contributed to the overall experience. I guess I won’t be able to weigh the pros and cons of attending a festival spread throughout downtown versus a self-contained casino venue until the festival is over, but I will say that the Las Vegas Film Festival’s precursor, CineVegas, successfully operated for years at the Palms with great fanfare so there is great history and precedent in this venue. Indeed last year’s Festival saw a merging of sorts of CineVegas and the Las Vegas Film Festival with a special “CineVegas Presents” screening of probably the best film I’ve ever seen at the Las Vegas Film Festival, the New Zealand hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Building on last year’s success, the festival features a series of “CineVegas Presents” films specially picked by the CineVegas team of Trevor Goth and Mike Plante. Last night I was able to catch a screening of Thursday’s “CineVegas Presents” feature Rat Film.

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Getting ready to watch Rat Film

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about a documentary about rats but I approached it with an open mind and walked out of the theater having learned a great deal more than I anticipated. Rat Film could be more accurately describe not as a documentary about rats but about the correlation between rats and dense urban populations in Baltimore, Maryland. The film, shot in Baltimore and featuring (in its strongest moments) candid interviews with various unique and interesting Baltimore residents, covers an ambitious amount of information related to the history of segregation in Baltimore, the history of rat poison, how WWII impacted the rat poison supply, and how societal factors combined to create perpetual zones of urban decay which ultimately lead to rodent epidemics. Interspersed with the documentary sections, however, were a series of psychedelic vignettes which attempted to tie together the film’s themes but ultimately came across as somewhat confusing and tangential to the film’s narrative.

I do praise the filmmaker’s ambition in trying to tackle a huge amount of history and vast societal problems in the span of a roughly 90 minute documentary, although in my opinion I would have recommended that the documentary undergo some heavy editing to reshape it more as a straight documentary. Nevertheless I enjoyed the parts of the film that tackled interesting historical and societal issues, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in these areas.

Yesterday also featured Where To, Miss? an excellent film I was fortunate enough to catch at this year’s Nevada Women’s Film Fest. On a lighter note, yesterday’s “Short Blocks 2” segment featured “Make Our Relationship Great Again”, a humorous video by Zachary Honea and featuring original music from one of Las Vegas’ favorite songwriters Joey Hines. (RIYL humor, puppetry, and/or political discussions, in no particular order)

Speaking of music, tonight will be a special one as it features the Music Video Lab Screening and party at 10pm. This has become a favorite section of the Festival over the years as it features music videos of various local bands. Prior to the highly anticipated music videos there will be an 8pm “CineVegas Presents” screening of Person to Person starring Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson.

The festival continues through Sunday and as always I highly recommend the Las Vegas Film Festival as a way to expand your horizons and view some interesting films that you might otherwise fly under your radar.

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