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Boulder City’s wildly entertaining Dam Short Film Fest goes online

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Le Miroir (director: Leila Murton Poole)
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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous effect on cinemas, nearly all of it bad. Thousands of theaters are shut down; many likely won’t reopen. Studios have put more than a years’ worth of major features on indefinite hold or debuted them on streaming services, where they’re seen but not necessarily savored.

On the upside, however, drive-in theaters are having a great year. And the 17th installment of Boulder City’s Dam Short Film Festival—screening exclusively online through damshortfilm.org, February 11-15—could see a huge audience bump, as it extends its reach far beyond Southern Nevada, into a restive nation that largely hasn’t stepped foot in a cinema in a year or more.

<em>How to Rob a Witch</em> (director: Liam Fahy)

How to Rob a Witch (director: Liam Fahy)

And there’s a lot to entertain them. This year’s program of 162 short films—helpfully grouped by genre and theme—includes Sword Of!, a new film from the Thompson brothers, makers of the acclaimed Thor at the Bus Stop and Popovich and the Voice of the Fabled American West; a new DeVotchKa music video directed by Marcin Biegunajtys and Nick Urata; Land of the Sweets, a live filming of Seattle’s annual “burlesque Nutcracker,” featuring Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend regular Lily Verlaine; Aurora, by locally based animator Jo Meuris; Josh Berman’s snowboarding documentary Day 1 and much, much more.

The entirety of the festival—including not just the films, but filmmaker Q&As, the awards ceremony and all the other events you’d usually enjoy in Boulder City’s charming, 90-year-old movie house—will stream live via Eventive, a film festival-friendly platform that works with AppleTV, Android TV and Roku. (It also includes numerous safety mechanisms to protect the filmmakers against piracy.) And while we’ll miss wandering over to Dam Roast House or the Dillinger for between-viewing refreshments, the greatest pleasure of the any film festival—stumbling into discoveries—will remain part and parcel of this year’s Dam Short fest. In a way, it’ll be easier than ever to take in.

“We’re reaching more people than we ever have before with the virtual format,” says Dam Short Executive Director Tsvetelina Stefanova. (Name sound familiar? You’ve probably seen her band Same Sex Mary, or taken in a show from her indie promotional group Bad Moon Booking—both collaborative efforts with now-Boulder City Councilman James Howard Adams.) “We had the entire year to see how other festivals were responding and to get a real good look at what works and what doesn’t, what’s right for us.”

<em>Misfits</em>  (director: Ciani Rey Walker)

Misfits (director: Ciani Rey Walker)

The threefold responsibility of reaching the largest audience possible, “making the filmmaker experience similar to what we do in real life” and re-creating the small-town warmth of the “friendliest film festival in the Southwest” for attendees was a tough balancing act for the festival founded by Lee and Anita Lanier in 2003, but Stefanova is hopeful that they’ve nailed it. They have to; there’s a high standard to uphold. “We’re one of the top 100 best-reviewed film festivals in the world on Film Freeway, which is kind of the gold standard of festival submissions,” she says.

And it probably goes without saying that Stefanova loves this year’s films. All of them, pretty much equally.

“As a programmer, I can’t really pick a child,” she says, laughing. “I think our entire selection this year is just excellent. There’s a little something for everybody; there’s animation side by side with horror, documentaries. … The great thing about short film is that you get to experience the perspective of so many different individuals, scenarios and stories. It really opens your eyes and brings you closer to the world, and to each other. That’s something that we absolutely need right now, more than anything—that personal connection.”

Dam Short Film Festival Streaming February 11-15, $12-$100, damshortfilm.org

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