Sunday, June 14, 2009 | 11:50 p.m.
After five days of popcorn, celebrities and independent films, the 11th annual CineVegas Film Festival celebrated the best of the best Sunday in an awards ceremony at Rain Nightclub at the Palms.
During the presentation, which was hosted by “Access Hollywood” correspondent Maria Menounos, CineVegas honored its jury award winners in feature and documentary categories, as well as presenting awards to legendary actors Jon Voight and Willem Dafoe, filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar and video game designers Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago.
In front of a crowd of filmmakers, industry representatives and members of the press, skateboarding great Tony Hawk took a turn at the podium to present the first-ever Planet Illogica award for Excellence in New Media to Chen and Santiago, known for the puzzle game “Cloud."
The ceremony then veered into film territory, with famed filmmakers the Kuchar brothers accepting Vanguard Director Awards for their long careers making low-fi art-films. Sharing the microphone, Mike Kuchar offered praise for the Caesars Palace Forum Shops during his acceptance, while George thanked the crowd for letting them make movies. “We can’t help it,” he said.
CineVegas Chair Dennis Hopper also stepped up, introducing Vanguard Actor Award-winner Willem Dafoe, who accepted his award with a succinct speech during which he mentioned that his appearance at CineVegas marked his first visit to Las Vegas.
Last among the honorees was Jon Voight who was presented with the Marquee Award following a screening of his newly remastered 1982 film “Lookin’ To Get Out” by director Hal Ashby.
After recognizing the celebrities, the ceremony moved on to the meat of CineVegas, the festival’s 2009 jury awards. Director Jessica Oreck received a Special Documentary Jury Prize for artistic vision for her film “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” about the role of insects in Japanese culture. The Documentary Jury Award went to a film fitting for the Vegas-based annual festival: Douglas Tirola’s examination of poker-culture, “All In: The Poker Movie."
In the feature category, “Godspeed” and “Etienne!” received special jury awards, with executive producer and actor Cory Knauf accepting the Exceptional Artistic Achievement Award for “Godspeed” and director Jeff Mizushima taking home the Filmmaker to Watch Award for “Etienne!”, about a man who takes his best friend, a dwarf hampster, on a bicycle road trip along the California coast.
The Grand Jury Prize – and an oversized check for $10,000 – went to Kyle Patrick Alvarez for his film "Easier With Practice," based on the true story of a man who receives a mysterious phone sex call while on a road trip and begins an over-the-phone relationship with the caller.
After the flames from Rain’s centerpiece had subsided, Alvarez expressed his thanks for the award and laughed that the check would go to paying back the money spent on the film.
Also honored in the short film category were Destin Daniel’s "Short Term 12," which was given the CineVegas Short Film Jury Prize; Justin Nowell’s “Acting for the Camera”, which won a special Grand Jury Prize in Directing and Markus Kirschner’s "Communion," which took the CineVegas Nevada Short Film Jury Prize.
The ceremony marked the climax of the six-day festival ending Monday at the Palms Casino Resort and Brenden Theatres and was followed by the closing night party held at Palms nightspot Playboy Club. The festival will wrap up with showcases from UNLV and CSN, second showings of a few films and an additional screening of jury winners “All In: The Poker Movie” at 3:30 p.m. and “Easier with Practice” at 6 p.m. at Brenden Theatres.