If a film festival in Las Vegas had the amount of support proportional to the city’s population that the Dam Short Film Festival enjoys in Boulder City, it would almost certainly be a massive success. Over the course of its eight years, the DSFF has become a Boulder City institution, and local residents played a big part in packing the elegant Boulder Theatre for the festival’s three days of celebrating short films. At this year’s event, eight diehard fans took up the challenge of attending all 18 of the film programs, for the honor of winning a lifetime festival pass.
The festival also has the tendency to turn attendees into devotees; John LaBonney, serving as festival director for his first year (co-founder and original festival director Lee Lanier is now the executive director), started out as a fan before showcasing his short film “Barn Dance” at the festival in 2009. “If you stick with it long enough, they put you in charge,” he joked. Locals whose films have played in past festivals came back to showcase new works, including Dean Pizzoferrato’s charming “Lady and the Chap,” a Charlie Chaplin-style comedy made for last year’s 48 Hour Film Project, and “Ha Ha Horror” from UNLV film professor David Schmoeller, who is also finishing up work on a feature.
“I almost can’t mess it up,” LaBonney said of the festival that once again ran smoothly and effectively, culminating in its Saturday-night awards ceremony. The top local prize went to Stacy Adamski’s amusing but repetitive “Just Like the Movies,” with the impressive-looking but narratively muddled “Walter Was Here” as the runner-up. I preferred “Lady and the Chap,” plus a couple of local shorts that played outside of the dedicated Nevada program: Ron Rierson’s dark and disturbing but surprisingly heartfelt “Acro-Love” and Ben Zuk’s affecting romantic dramedy “Love on Saturday.”
My favorites from the festival overall included prize-winner “Incest! The Musical,” which combined bright, cheery production numbers with taboo sexuality in a funny, cheeky way; “The Man Who Never Cried,” a well-acted, stylishly shot story about a clown with emotional issues; and the dramas “A Dog” and “Park,” both of which took simple, everyday interactions and escalated them to uncomfortable intensity. “Incest!” took home an award for the best student film, but the festival audience was overall a little too enamored of cutesy, feel-good stories over artistically challenging fare.
The good thing about the DSFF is that it’s expansive enough to embrace that entire range of material. “It takes a whole year to put this on,” LaBonney reminded me, and indeed next year’s festival (expanded back to four days) has already been announced. In the increasingly volatile film-festival world, the DSFF remains a sure thing.