This year, for the first time in its 15-year history, Boulder City’s Dam Short Film Festival will be proceeding without co-founder Lee Lanier, who began the festival in 2005 with his wife Anita after being impressed with the quality of short films they had seen elsewhere on the festival circuit. What was once a small-time operation has grown into the largest film festival in Nevada and one of the premier short-film showcases in the country, and Lanier has left the festival in the capable hands of festival director John LaBonney and development director Tsvetelina Stefanova.
“Of course it’s a big loss to the organization, Lee leaving,” LaBonney says. “We’re going to miss him, but everybody’s pitching in to pick up the slack.” Festival attendees shouldn’t notice any difference, and this year’s event features another packed lineup of short films, with more than 120 selections spread over 20-plus thematic programs and four days. That’s pared down from the more than 950 submissions the festival received this year, its largest number ever.
“Doing the program is one of the hardest parts of creating this festival,” LaBonney says. “We’ve got this group of movies we want to run, and then we try to organize them in some way that makes sense.” Sometimes that means grouping together, say, four movies that involve characters driving through the desert, and sometimes it means reviving a genre block that has been dormant for a few years (this year, it’s a program of action movies). “Since the festival programs itself, it depends on what movies we’ve got in front of us to use, to put in these thematic blocks,” LaBonney explains.
Other highlights this year include four documentary blocks, two programs dedicated to Nevada filmmakers (disclosure: a short film I co-wrote is in one of those programs), the always popular comedy block, and what LaBonney calls “my favorite and everybody’s favorite,” the Underground program, featuring strange, experimental, boundary-pushing selections. As always, if you can only make it to one program, the Best of the Fest block on Sunday night rounds up all the audience favorites from the preceding four days.
DSFF celebrates the charms of Boulder City as much as it spotlights the art form of the short film, and the community is always supportive. “We’re proud of the fact that when you walk into a Dam Short Film Festival screening, there’s not six people, which happens at some festivals,” LaBonney says. “We have a decent-size crowd no matter what program you come to.” And those crowds tend to be full of repeat visitors. “When they see short films, they’re mesmerized, they’re surprised, they’re fascinated,” LaBonney says. “Once people see that, they want to see more of it.”
DAM SHORT FILM FESTIVAL February 7-10, various times, $10 per program, $100 passes. Boulder Theatre, damshortfilm.org.