The Dam Short Film Festival: Dam Fun by Mary Kuzman

Thirty miles from the Las Vegas Strip is a three-day party known not-at-all solemnly as the Dam Short Film Festival. It is in Boulder City, an often overlooked small town that includes charm, history and some of the most entertaining short filmmakers in the world. Add to that the friendliest people working together to have a good time, and there are some compelling reasons that keep people coming back year after year.

The Dam Short Film Festival, or the Dam Short, is held in the Boulder Theater and the Boulder Hotel. The festival screens over one hundred short films with an average run time of eight minutes and recognizes the best with an award and public acclaim. There are no cash prizes, just recognition and a statuette reminiscent of art deco angels.

The Dam Short is a community builder in two important ways: it promotes individual involvement with other like-minded neighbors with more active— and less costly— entertainment and showcases the local creative community. Las Vegans are aware that the city and its environs have a close friendship with having a good time but little acquaintance with community events. The Dam Short combines the two. The fact that the entries are international and many have received awards in other film festivals only serves to highlight the Dam Short as an interesting cultural event amply suited to the Las Vegas temperament. The mechanics involved in showing over a hundred films in three days are a combination of a lot of work and dozens of volunteers who work all year to hold a successful festival. They come from all over the Vegas valley because they are drawn by the promise of a good party and by the infusion of creative effort that the film festival engenders.

Lee Lanier, an award-winning animator, and his wife, Anita, along with a local videographer and a local shop owner founded the host organization, the Dam Short Film Society, in 2003. This February’s celebration was the eighth. When it began, the festival’s mission was to promote an interest in short films, and that has not changed. The festival is non-profit and funded by contributions, a grant from the Nevada Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Dam Short has also attracted sponsors such as KNPR, the local National Public Radio affiliate, Cirque du Soleil, and the Nevada Film Office. 

The most appealing concept of the Dam Short is that the audience votes for the best in each category instead of a panel of judges. This works remarkably well and not only increases the audience’s involvement but gives each audience member a feeling of importance that other festivals fail to impart—an excellent finale for both audience and artist. It appears that this year’s audience took the task seriously. Though there is a category specifically for Nevada residents, quality submissions come from all over the world. There were entries from Germany, Taiwan, Brazil, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Cuba and Israel, but this year, the best documentary was from Australia.

The criteria for submissions to the Dam Short are not rigid; any genre or subject is accepted. The film must be no longer than forty minutes, and if there is a significant amount of dialogue in a foreign language, it must be subtitled in English. The categories are Drama, Documentary, Animation, Sci-Fi / Horror, Comedy, Nevada Filmmaker, Student and Audience Favorite. Next year’s dates have already been set, February 6-9, 2013, though it is not yet open for submissions. There are no restrictions on when the film was made. If participants enter a film in either the student category or the Nevada resident category, they must be prepared to furnish proof. If the filmmaker is no longer a student or a resident of Nevada, a film made during either of those time periods can still be entered, providing there is proof of residency.

Apart from screening and voting for the short films, the festival offers other sources of entertainment including mixers, filmmaker panels and an after party in the charming setting of Boulder City.There is even a picture contest that lets visitors take all the Dam Short pictures they want and get a chance to win all-access passes to the 2013 Festival. Someone interested in the festival can get a one, two, three or four-day pass or a pass to a single event. Admissions are extremely flexible, moderately priced and the proceeds are put right back into future festivals.

The Dam Short is not as electrifying as the Vegas Strip or as prestigious as Sundance, but it has grown each year and remains an excellent way to meet some very creative and interesting people, spend the weekend in a charming less crowded location, inhale less second-hand smoke, and see some good, short films for a lot less money than than anywhere else.


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