The trip to Boulder City is not as long as you may think, and it’s completely worthwhile for an event like the Dam Short Film Festival, which took place this past weekend. I made it to six of the festival’s 22 screenings, catching a sampling of the more than 100 short films on display, including all of the weekend’s award winners. According to festival organizer Lee Lanier, attendance this year (the first to run four full days) was about on par with last year, and indeed, aside from a 10:30 p.m. Wednesday screening, every showing I attended had a respectable turnout.
Highlights for me included the French film Cam2Cam in the horror program, which built tension out of what turned out to be a fairly predictable scenario, and somehow managed to make emoticons and text-speak seem menacing; and Well-Founded Concerns in the sci-fi program, a tongue-in-cheek look at the type of people who might survive an apocalypse. Both lost out on the Best Horror/Sci-Fi award, though, to the mediocre In the Dark, a rather nonsensical horror movie with a handful of creepy moments.
Other award-winners were better, including Andrew Mailliard’s hilariously low-fi The Early Nineties, basically a re-enactment of three anecdotal monologues about the filmmaker’s childhood, which took home the Audience Favorite award, as well as the prize for Best Student Film (it probably should have also beaten the cute but one-note A Death in Progress for Best Comedy). Top drama The Things We Do for Love built wonderfully into an evocative story about family and grief—and had the most competition for its award in a festival with 10 different programs devoted to drama.
In what was probably the weakest Nevada Filmmakers program I’ve seen in the four years I’ve been attending the DSFF, Amber Beard’s sweet coming-of-age story Growing Up Vegas (which also played CineVegas in 2008) took the top prize, deservedly so. Another CineVegas repeat, Timothy L. Anderson’s surreal One Two Punch, came in second, and those two represented the only worthwhile movies on the local slate, unfortunately. Just last year the DSFF managed to fill two programming slots with interesting local films, but this year they were reduced to showing amateurish, clumsily written and poorly acted entries from several local filmmakers who consistently churn out subpar, laughable productions. Jamison Derfler’s A Hot Meal at least had some impressive stunt work, although at 24 minutes it was a good 20 minutes longer than it had any right to be.
Disappointing showings from locals aside, the 2009 DSFF once again proved both the diversity and vitality of the short film as an art form, and the charms of Boulder City as a host city (and the lovely Boulder Theatre as host venue). I’m already looking forward to next year.