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[The Film Issue]

Ten damn years of Dam Short Film Fest

An interview with co-founder Lee Lanier

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Dam Short co-founder and executive director Lee Lanier says the festival is strong enough to survive him.
Photo: Adam Shane

The Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City celebrates its 10th year this week with 26 programs featuring 171 short films over the course of five days, including several retrospectives showcasing the best movies of the festival’s first decade. Co-founder and executive director Lee Lanier looks back on the past 10 years, and ahead to the future.

How did the idea for the festival come about? I had started making short films in the late ’90s, so I’d gone on the festival circuit myself. We saw a lot of good films, and we realized that after they show, they kind of disappear. Somewhere along the way we got the idea that we should start our own film festival to show all these awesome shorts that we’ve seen. After a couple of years, we decided to move, and we were like, “You know, a small town would be a perfect place for a festival.” And eventually it all kind of fell together.

What do you love about short films? They’re very concise pieces of art. They’re short and tell a story in a very complex way. You have a lot of flexibility in terms of experimenting. There’s so many different styles and genres and approaches, much more so than a feature film.

What’s your greatest achievement in 10 years of the festival? I’m very proud that the festival has made it to 10 years. Film festivals [often] go under, and a lot of times they disappear when they’re younger, too, after three or four or five years. So I’m glad that it’s strong enough to even survive me. I used to be the person who did everything. And now I have all these great people working on the festival, so I’ve been able to set up the festival in such a way that it can survive any single person.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s lineup? I think it’s great to have the retrospectives. It’ll be fun just to have all those films in one place. They were fun to program. One other new thing that we’re going to do that we haven’t done before is [festival director] John [LaBonney] and I are going to do essentially a Q&A with the audience called “The Secrets of the DSFF.” That’ll be fun, because we’re going to talk about how we run the festival, the history of the festival, the ups and downs of the festival and things like that.

What are your goals for the next 10 years of Dam Short? I’d love to see something we’ve always kind of done, which is slow, steady growth with better films every year, slicker production, slightly larger budget, more filmmakers coming into town, more resilience to the economy, where it becomes a little bit easier to fundraise and things like that. I’d love to see it become more of a destination. I would like to see it move up or expand in such a way that we do get people coming into town and staying because they really like Boulder City.

Dam Short Film Festival February 12-16, times vary, $7 per screening, passes $30-$100. Boulder Theatre, damshortfilm.org.

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