At this year’s Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City, co-founder and executive director Lee Lanier told me that running the festival involves a constant effort to play catch-up: As the festival gets bigger and more popular, the organizers expand their scope to accommodate the increase in attendees, submissions and coverage, and then the festival expands again, beyond what they’ve planned for. It’s a pretty enviable problem to have, and in the DSFF’s 13th year, Lanier and his fellow organizers handled it beautifully.
New this year was an evening of special showcases before the first full day of the festival, including the entertaining omnibus feature film Dealer (a linked collection of short films from Vegas filmmakers) and a music-video showcase featuring local bands. Both were programmed by new DSFF board member Tsvetelina Stefanova, who has brought an infusion of new energy into the festival. Along with Lanier and festival director John LaBonney, she’s helping the DSFF stay on top of its growth and outreach to new audiences.
I made it to a little more than half the programs in the festival, which were generally well-attended and full of stylistic diversity. My overall favorite film from the festival came in the Underground program, which showcases the most risqué content appropriate for Boulder City. The outrageous absurdist comedy “The Black Bear,” featuring a dangerous bear played by an actor in a cute bear costume, is funny, creative and surprising, with a twisted sense of humor that lasts exactly the right amount of time in the short-film format.
Local filmmakers made a strong showing this year, and my favorite Nevada film came from former Absinthe stars Voki Kalfayan and Anais Thomassian. “No Soliciting” stars Thomassian as a surly singing telegram who unexpectedly bonds with her latest client, in an amusing, off-kilter way. I also liked Brahm Taylor’s spaghetti-Western pastiche “Shoot in Any Direction and You’ll Hit a Bastard,” which makes up in style what it lacks in narrative cohesion. And former local filmmaker Clinton Cornwell delivered with the sensitive, understated showbiz drama “Hollywood and Sunset.”
Other festival highlights included the simple, inventive horror short “Dead Bed,” which is almost like a magic trick in its clever misdirections; the animated “Mr. Madila,” which takes a cheeky approach to existential questions; and the documentary “Billsville,” a sweet portrait of an outsider artist. Nearly every program I went to had at least one standout selection, emblematic of the wide range of submissions the festival now receives. If the organizers are playing catch-up, they’re doing an impressive job of it.