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Film fest returns to in-person schedule

After two years of trying to do everything online, Lee Lanier is ready to welcome live audiences back to the Dam Short Film Festival. The latest edition of the popular festival is scheduled to run Feb. 16-20 in downtown Boulder City.

Lanier, who co-founded the festival and currently serves as a board member and the event’s director of continuity, is ready to mix and mingle with audiences and filmmakers again while also noting that the virtual format of the past two festivals was not without its advantages.

“While we missed being able to be in the same room while viewing these great short films, some of the things we were able to do including the question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers definitely had value,” he said.

This year, the only virtual element that fans will be able to access online will be the actual award ceremony at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.

“We would love to try to do some of the programming we did virtually again in the future,” he explained. “But trying to do both an in-person event and virtual programming at the same time would be a lot like trying to do two different festivals concurrently. So not this year but we are looking at possibly adding some of those elements back for future events.”

Another major adjustment this year is a change of venue. While previous editions have taken place at the art deco Boulder Theatre, this year the event will take place at the Elaine K. Smith Building, which used to house Boulder City satellite campus of of the College of Southern Nevada.

“We loved being at the theater and hope to return there but we were not able to rent it out this year.”

Lanier also noted that, for the organizers, the venue change was less work than might be expected. While the Boulder Theatre started out as an old-school movie palace, the current owner had converted it for use as a live theater and dance venue. So, while audio equipment was already installed, the festival organizers still had to rent and install the screen and projection gear for the event.

The real change that audiences will notice is the capacity. Where the Boulder Theatre holds about 400 people, Lanier expects that the Smith building will hold no more than about 250.

“We are going to have a lot more sold-out events,” he said. “The hot tip for this year is to make sure you get to screenings early.”

Lanier got into the short film world after working for years as an animator for DreamWorks in the San Francisco Bay area of California.

“I love animation and sci-fi and made a few short films and took them out on the festival circuit and that eventually grew into us starting the Dam Short Film Festival. This was back in the mid-’90s before the commercial internet was really fully formed and the problem for short film artists was that they really had no place to show their creations outside of festivals and so a lot of great content just kind of disappeared,” he noted.

Now that virtually everyone can access all the content they want via a screen, there is a new challenge.

“There has been an explosion of content. We are not a huge festival and we get more than 1,000 submissions each year. This year we chose about 153 to screen. But the really big festivals may get as many as 20,000 submissions.”

Which leads to the real value proposition for the Dam Short Film Festival. “It is really all about curation,” Lanier explained. “While I love the democratization of content wrought by the internet, the downside of that is that when anyone with an idea and a camera can create a film, the resulting amount of available content can be overwhelming.

“Our idea with the festival is really to point people who love short films as an art form in the direction of content that is worth seeking out.”

Organizers of the festival have long championed home-grown directors with Ken Cioe, a board member and director of operations, spearheading programming that highlights works made by Nevada directors.

Nevada filmmaker Benjamin Robertson, whose Silver Tree Films is behind the entry entitled “Chuck and Charlie,” has entered a number of shorts and documentaries to festivals and is grateful to have a “quality festival” so close to home.

“This festival brings together a talented group of filmmakers from around the world to share current projects and collaborate on upcoming films,” he said, adding that he plans to attend the event.

“Honestly, it’s nice to be recognized with an award for all of our hard work, but the collaboration between filmmakers is one of the best parts of the festival. I have found multiple people at festivals that I ended up hiring for a future project.”

Contact reporter Bill Evans at wevans@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401.

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