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April 21, 2014

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Neon Reverb’s film program feels like a missed opportunity

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Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy

When Neon Reverb organizers first announced that they would be including a film program as part of the indie-music festival, it was a promising step toward potentially filling in for the recently departed CineVegas. But Neon Reverb’s film component has been consistently disappointing, suffering from poor organization, low attendance and unfocused programming. There were a few positive steps this year, with a program that reached beyond local student filmmakers, but the turnout was dismal, and promotion was nearly nonexistent.

Past programs featuring short films by UNLV students and other locals have brought out decent crowds of filmmakers and their friends, so even though this year’s slate was less insular, it didn’t have that built-in audience. And whoever was to blame—festival organizers, venue owners, filmmakers themselves—the result was that barely anybody turned out for the festival’s two features, the documentary Tension: 25 Years Underground at the Sci Fi Center on Tuesday and the Scottish-Canadian drama Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy at Theatre 7 on Wednesday.

Filmmaker Rudy Childs came from Los Angeles for the world premiere of Tension, and he brought musician Billy Giddings with him all the way from Maryland, along with Giddings’ wife and daughter. Giddings is the drummer of underground heavy metal band Tension, the subject of Childs’ film, and he joked that the band had played a few gigs with audiences as small as the one at the Center. Only five or six people, not counting Childs and the Giddings family, showed up to see the world premiere of the competent but sometimes dull documentary about Tension, a 1980s heavy metal band that recorded one influential album before breaking up. Childs, a longtime fan, might have been a little too close to the material, and his inclusion of interview material about every short-lived band member and small-scale milestone dragged the movie down a bit.

No one associated with Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy was at Theatre 7 the next night, just another handful of people interested in seeing the movie, which is set to open in the U.K. next month. Based on a novel by Trainspotting author Welsh, Ecstasy is a pale imitation of that movie, with none of the passion, style or personality that Danny Boyle brought to his portrait of drug addiction. Director Rob Heydon presents a more sanitized take on drug culture (in particular, club-goers who take ecstasy), with flat dialogue and a pair of lifeless performances from leads Adam Sinclair and Kristin Kreuk.

So maybe the features weren’t all that great (there’s also a shorts program at Theatre 7 on Friday), but they were legitimate independent feature films, with subject matter relevant to a music festival. Organizers could have paired Tension with a performance by a hard rock band, or Ecstasy with a performance by an electronic-music act, or at least cross-promoted with related music events. Instead the movies were left adrift in the middle of the week, and both film fans and music fans lost out on another opportunity to bring the two together.

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