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Dam Short Film Fest’s 10th year was a damn good time

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Valerie Bischoff’s Derby Kings won the jury award in Dam Short’s 2014 Nevada program.

“Can you believe it?” went the refrain in the intro video at this year’s Dam Short Film Festival, and while it is a little hard to believe that the festival has made it to 10 years, it’s also easy to see how co-founder Lee Lanier and director John LaBonney have put together an event that has grown into a Boulder City institution. Even with the schedule expanded to five days, Wednesday through Sunday, attendance at this year’s festival was strong, especially for the comedy and animation programs, as well as for the always popular Nevada showcase.

Three retrospective programs—highlighting comedy, animation and Nevada films—showed how the festival has evolved over the last decade, and the general caliber of films has continued to improve. Even films that I didn’t care for (like the soulless all-action video-game fan film Croft, which won the overall audience award) demonstrated impressive technical skill and dedication.

Some of my favorites did end up with awards, including the twisted Belgian sci-fi movie Un Monde Meilleur, which cleverly inverts the typical dystopian-future setup, focusing on a dedicated bureaucrat whose life is torn apart when rebels successfully bring down the totalitarian government. The sci-fi and horror programs were generally quite good, and I particularly liked horror shorts Skypemare (a thriller with a nasty punch line, starring Vegas actress Cerina Vincent) and Root (a story of obsessive love featuring David Cronenberg-style body horror).

The documentaries were another festival strength this year, from the jury award-winning The Pixel Painter (about a senior citizen who creates computer-generated art) to the affecting character studies Eugene (about a homeless San Francisco man) and Flo (about a disabled New York City photographer). All three of those shorts combine fascinating subjects with a dynamic cinematic approach.

The jury award winner in the Nevada program came from up north (the mediocre family drama Derby Kings, directed by Valerie Bischoff), but Las Vegas filmmakers were otherwise well represented. Adam Zielinski’s Firecracker, an effective combination of strong acting, an emotional story and some well-placed suspense, deservedly won the audience award, and Jenny Egidio (Snap Shot Love) and April Holladay (Best Idea Ever) both turned in snappy, clever shorts that mark them as local filmmakers to watch.

With an upgraded projection system installed in the historic Boulder Theatre, the festival provided a worthwhile presentation for its 171 films, most of which looked remarkably professional, as the available resources for even no-budget short films have grown significantly in the last 10 years. Then again, one of my favorite experiences of the festival was watching the grubby, weird black and white German movie Der Postbote, with crude sound and grainy image. In a festival full of technical sophistication, artistry still comes first.

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