“There’s such a sweet spirit to this festival,” my friend said as we stood outside the Boulder Theater on the last night of the Dam Short Film Festival. We were part of the throng of faux-paparazzi waiting to cheer and snap photos of the filmmakers arriving by limo and walking a makeshift red carpet for the festival’s awards ceremony. That sweet spirit extends to the entirety of the festival, an event celebrating both an underappreciated art form (the short film) and an underappreciated locale (Boulder City). This year’s fest was once again expertly programmed and enthusiastically attended, thanks to the efforts of co-founder and executive director Lee Lanier. I made it to about half of the 24 programs, and my favorite films were based around simple ideas executed well, the key to a good short film.
God of Love, which won the festival’s top award for student film, combines a crisp black-and-white look with hilarious deadpan comedy and genuinely engaging performances, showing filmmaker Luke Matheny’s confident personal style right off the bat. The equally amusing and poignant Pony Rides Are for Girls keeps things more grounded, with just two actors in a single location. Still, it manages to find both humor and pathos in the hiring of a clown for a kid’s birthday party. I also liked the unsentimental portrait of childhood in Charlie and the Rabbit; the disturbing Tim Burton-esque stop-motion animation of The Birds Upstairs; and the creepy suspense of the Spanish horror film Drift (despite its muddled ending).
Possibly the most encouraging event was the program devoted to local filmmaking, a disappointing portion of the festival the past two years. This time, it featured a high level of technical sophistication and acting talent even in the lesser entries, and the award-winners easily stood up to the best films from elsewhere in the festival. Jeremy Helal’s affecting character study Cowboy took the top local prize, and I liked its strange but serious look at social awkwardness. I probably would have given top honors to the runner-up, Dean Pizzoferrato’s The Last Night, a funny and creative combination of stoner comedy and zombie movie, with three great performances from its lead actresses. But both were worthy winners, and Lanier’s own retro sci-fi piece, Blood Roulette, was a lot of fun as well. With a premiere that included a performance by local Boulder City band Same Sex Mary, it exemplified the community spirit of the festival, one that keeps filmmakers and locals coming back year after year.