The secret weapon, or at least ongoing inspiration, of the eleven year old CineVegas film festival is Dennis Hopper, the American actor (and artist) long associated with the renegade spirit of U.S. independent film from his work on such maverick movies as "Easy Rider" and "Blue Velvet," among others.
"Isn't this the best festival you've ever been to," Hopper enthused emphatically over the weekend, chatting with indieWIRE inside the bustling CVHQ, CineVegas' nerve center. The headquarters and lounge is situated within the loud casino at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas. Nearby, festival badge holders could play ping pong, drink Stella Artois, eat bagels or watch a Billy Idol impersonator perform on a live stage.
Dapper in his tan sportcoat, CineVegas' self-proclaimed celebrity mascot -- and chair of its board of advisors -- got involved with the festival after being honored by the event some six years ago. Sitting next to fest artistic director Trevor Groth he praised the organizer as the reason he stays involved year after year. "Vegas is an entertainment center," Hopper boasted, adding that by getting involved he hoped to bridge the gap between Sin City and Hollywood.
Hardly a Vegas regular, though, Dennis Hopper noted that CineVegas is his only standing trip to the city. "I love coming here every year," he noted, boosting the region by adding that the city has plenty to offer even non gamblers. When he is in Vegas, though, Hopper is a fixture during the festival and continuously accessible to festival filmmakers and attendees. "I have a really great time here," he added. "If gambling is not your thing, there is so much to do here," Hopper said, gesticulating with his hands and smiling, adding, "Get with the bing bing bing bing bing..."
"Right from the start, I was trying to figure out what the identity of CineVegas was," Groth told indieWIRE during the chat. He joined the event eight years ago. "I knew that the type of films that I responded to and the type of films that I wanted to champion were the kinds of movies that Dennis has made through the years." He added, "I wanted to discover and champion all those kinds of filmmakers who are working on the edge."
During the conversation, Hopper praised Groth and his team for taking an alternative approach to their festival, singling out this weekend's "Distribution Roulette" event -- covered in indieWIRE this weekend -- that combined a lunch for filmmakers with a game show and panel discussion concept. "The idea of doing a party, and doing it that way," Hopper said, excitedely, "I thought that was the beginning of something important." He reiterated that it was crucial to explore how the industry is changing today and the way that new distribution opportunities are being created to incorporate digital technology and the Internet.
"People like to see other people, to be in the audience with other people," Hopper reflected about the event, underscoring the importance of real world festivals that draw audiences together. He added that the CineVegas focus on emerging, independent work, in particular, is crucial. In Hopper's words, "these are the people who are going to make it or break it."
"You are educating an audience," Hopper added. "A dry martini is an acquired taste, but once you've acquired it, forget it you have to go to AA."
The CineVegas Film Festival concludes today.