Biz places bets on fresh talent at Vegas film fest

Mon Jun 15, 2009 2:46am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik

LAS VEGAS (Hollywood Reporter) - CineVegas, the annual Sin City gathering of indie film powerbrokers amid the slot machines and black-jack tables, wound down Sunday after providing several breakouts -- and more than a few surreal spectacles.

Among the world premieres to make a splash were Jeff Mizushima's "Etienne!," Frankie Latina's "Modus Operandi" and Kyle Patrick Alvarez's "Easier With Practice."

Mizushima's "Etienne!" was a conversation piece for many over the weekend. The film, a spiritual cousin to "Lars and the Real Girl," centers on a pudgy loner who has only one friend -- the titular dwarf hamster -- whom he decides to take on a bike trip up the California coast after the critter is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"Operandi," meanwhile, was the talk of the festival among media and execs after its premiere Saturday night. Nominally a thriller involving a revenge-bent CIA agent, it also bursts with campiness and odes to '70s movie outrageousness.

Perhaps the best-received movie of the fest was "Practice," an understated drama about an introverted twentysomething writer who develops an unlikely relationship with a woman who calls him randomly one day.

All three movies have U.S. theatrical rights available and were being circled by acquisition execs as the fest wound down.

On Sunday night, "Practice" took the grand jury prize, while "Etienne!" and Robert Saitzyk's Alaskan thriller "Godspeed" won special jury prizes.

In other categories, Doug Tirola's poker study "All In" took the documentary jury prize while Jessica Oreck's Japan-insect exploration "Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo" scored the special documentary jury prize. Jon Voight and Willem Dafoe were given achievement awards.   Continued...