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CineVegas, Director of Programming

Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
June 8, 2004

Now celebrating its sixth year, the CineVegas Film Festival storms onto the floor of the luxurious Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trevor Groth, the event's Director of Programming, clued us in to the eclectic showcase of cinema, which is enjoying its brightest spotlight to date, thanks in part to big Hollywood names like Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn...

RadioFree.com: Where and when is CineVegas held?

Trevor Groth: CineVegas takes place at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms in Las Vegas. It goes June 11th through the 19th this year, and the main focus is on U.S. independents. We've got eight world premieres this year of U.S. independent films, but we also show international features as well, and short films and documentaries.

What is your role in this film festival?

The main role that I play is programming the festival, and that means selecting all the films and events that happen at the festival. I do all that out of Los Angeles, and we have a staff here in Las Vegas that sets up all the administrative stuff and a lot of the events and parties that happen during the festival.

I understand you were also involved with the Sundance film festival. Is that still the case, or do you now work exclusively with CineVegas?

My year is split between the two festivals. I'm Senior Programmer for Sundance, and I've been doing that for eleven years. And this is my third year as Director of Programming for CineVegas.

What is the main purpose of all these festivals?

I think the main purpose of a film festival is to bring exposure to films that otherwise wouldn't have any. There's a limited amount of films that ever get distributed theatrically, and so film festivals are a chance to get these films exposure, and hopefully we bring in acquisitions people to see them, and critics that maybe will champion them, and then they'll have a shot at getting theatrical distribution.

How long has CineVegas been in existence?

It is the sixth year of CineVegas. We took a two year hiatus after year three, and then they sort of revamped everything and brought me in to shape it. In a sense, we've been rebuilding for the past three years, but this is the sixth CineVegas.

Why was the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas selected as the festival's site?

Well, the Palms is, for me, the perfect venue for a film festival. They've got a great theater. The Brenden Theatres are right here in the location, plus we can put all our filmmakers here, all the guests of the festival here, and then they also have amazing venues to have parties in. They've got Ghostbar at the top floor, and then they've got a night club, Rain. We also have our registration area here, and our hospitality suite here. So it's really unique in that it's one of the few festivals in the world that is completely self-contained in one area.

Has CineVegas always been at the Palms?

It has been in the three years I've done it. Before that, it was at Paris. They made a theater in one of the ballrooms there. But I think the Palms is a much better venue in terms of the facilities here, and it's a little more intimate than Paris is, so I think you can really sort of feel like there's a heart of the festival.

What is it about the Palms that seems to attract so many celebrities?

I think a lot has to do with the owners. I think George Maloof has a very dynamic personality, very charismatic, and I think he's tapped into certain circles in the entertainment industry and has befriended some of these people. And they come out and support him and his hotel, and he takes good care of them. That's a smart business plan, and it seems to be doing really well for the Palms. Their night clubs, between Ghostbar and Rain, are really the most popular in Vegas now. Guests line up all throughout the casino. I think part of that is to possibly see some of the celebrities that come here. He's a really smart man, and he's got a great operation going here.

The Palms is great, except for the fact that you can't bet on basketball there.

Yeah, that's right. That is a problem. [laughs] But I think that's actually a good problem for me. I should probably stay away from betting.

The popularity of CineVegas has been growing dramatically in recent years. What makes this festival such a "place to be"?

I think this year was a big year for us. We had Dennis Hopper come in as the chair of our advisory board, and due in large part to him, we were able to do tributes to some huge names this year, like Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn and David Lynch, among others. And I just think it's a big breakout year for us in terms of exposure. I think when people come, they maybe will pay attention to us because of the big names, but then hopefully they'll remember us because of the good films that we have here. Hopefully, we'll continue to keep growing the way we have been.

What single element would you say is particularly exciting about this year's CineVegas?

Bringing Jack Nicholson to the festival. He rarely does these types of public appearances. The AFI did a tribute to him in the mid-90s, but otherwise, he's pretty reclusive. So to be able to bring him out here and celebrate films in this amazing location, it's a real highlight for me, and I think it's going to help propel us into the upper echelon of festivals.

What are some of the feature films that will be showcased this year?

For me, the highlights really are the world premieres. It's really what's going to make the festival pop because there's an excitement that comes from having world premieres. For the filmmakers, it's the first time they present their work to a public audience, so the excitement and the energy in the room is palpable. This year we've got some great films, including one of the most interesting U.S. independents I've seen in a really long time: Mitchellville, made by a lawyer in New York who, on his spare time, put together this really amazing film that he shot on 35 and finished on 35. It's a real purist film and I think he's really going to make a mark. We also have highlights of bigger films that already have theatrical distribution in place, like Riding Giants, the Stacy Peralta surf doc that is his follow-up to Dogtown and Z-Boys. It's very cool. Napoleon Dynamite, that Fox Searchlight has, was a hit at Sundance, and is an amazing film. And our opening and closing night films: D.E.B.S. is a really funny, really cool, lesbian action flick made by Angela Robinson; and The Notebook by Nick Cassavetes, with Gena Rowlands and James Garner and Ryan Gosling, is a really beautiful film. So I think with the combination of the brand new world premieres of the U.S. indies and these bigger studio films, it's going to be a year for us.

James Toback's When Will I Be Loved? starring Neve Campbell was originally part of the lineup for CineVegas, but has since been removed. Any word on why it was pulled?

Yeah, IFC changed their release schedule, so they're now going to release it later this year. So they're going to do the fall festivals instead of the summer festivals.

So it was a decision on their part to not screen the film this early?

That's right. It was an IFC issue in terms of maximizing the publicity they'll get from film festivals. It's too bad, I would have liked to have James Toback in Vegas. But maybe in the years to come...

Do guests of the Palms have access to any of these CineVegas screenings, or are they held exclusively for the media?

There are public screenings, so anyone who wants to come down to the theater can buy a ticket to go see any of these movies.

So any movie fanatic can be a part of this one-week, non-stop film party?

Absolutely. A lot of people come in for either the first weekend or the second weekend, but I love the people who come out and do it the whole week.

It's great that everyone has a chance to see this cinematic showcase you have lined up. Trevor, thanks for your time.

Have a good one.


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