GRAND PRIZE WINNER: ANTHEM FILM FESTIVAL
Filmmaker Ramsey Denison investigates the Las Vegas police department for corruption — and finds plenty. [ What Happened in Vegas credits: Dir: Ramsey Denison/ 90 min/ Documentary/ Abuse of power, Corrupt government/ 2017]
In 2013, Ramsey Denison was vacationing in Las Vegas when he witnessed police abusing a handcuffed suspect. He called 911 and reported the incident. However, to his surprise, instead of assisting the victim, arriving officers promptly arrested Denison and threw him in jail for three days. Apparently, such complaints were not wanted. The incident might have ended there but for something the police didn’t know — Denison is a filmmaker, and they had just decided the subject of his next film, hence What Happened in Vegas.
While the film uses Denison’s experience as a starting point, it’s just a thread in the broader fabric of corruption and incompetence presented. What Happened in Vegas includes several tragic incidents of citizens being killed by Las Vegas police in circumstances that clearly do not justify a lethal response, each incident excused by transparent lies on the part of the police administration to hide their own incompetence. That incompetence was brought to national attention recently with the massacre at Mandalay Bay, which after months of investigation is still unexplained, and that incident is covered in the film as well.
As a TV crime show editor, Denison has spent years producing true crime shows about heroic police. He’s no cop hater, very much the opposite; but the kind of people who hero-worship good cops just despise bad cops. That comes through in the documentary. As much as he loathes the current LVPD administration, he admires, and promotes in the film, one of the senior managers who he thinks should be running things.
What Happened in Vegas has at times a made-for-TV feel, and some of the interviewees are more convincing than others. But it is nonetheless an eye-opening and hair-raising expose. That a city the size of Las Vegas – and one touched annually by forty plus million visitors — should be so badly managed is a national tragedy. It’s a credit to Denison that he has brought the situation to public attention.
“Damning takedown of the city’s powers that be.”
“Denison’s experience cutting true crime programs pays off, delivering a polished production.”
–Los Angeles Times