Carol Patterson

Dam Short Film Festival 2008


Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Feb 7th – 9th, the Dam Short Film Society, a non-profit Nevada corporation, a non-membership organization), hosts the Dam Short Film Festival (DSFF). The festival is becoming one of Boulder City’s newest centerpieces on their incredible cultural schedule. The DSFF offers only Shorts, a special medium. For any storyteller, communicating their story, whatever it is, in shorter than feature film length, is  challenging—an art in itself. Filmmakers are to be treasured if they can be entertaining and get their point across concisely. The DSFF recognizes the rarity of succinct storytellers, celebrating them annually with a full weekend of screenings. There are only five other major short film festivals in the country: Los Angeles, Miami, Coney Island, and Boston’s Clotrudis short film festival.  

The festival headquarters are in the snazzy, Boulder Dam Hotel, a nationally registered Historic Place since 1982. The Boulder Dam Hotel, ‘The Grand Dame’, was built in 1933 to accommodate visiting government and corporate project managers supervising the building of Hoover Dam. The hotel quickly gained a worldwide reputation as a steady flow of dignitaries and celebrities checked in. Famous guests have included Bette Davis, Will Rogers, Boris Karloff, James Cagney, Henry Fonda, and Howard Hughes.


The box office and all screenings are next door in the Boulder Theater, of the same vintage. The Boulder Theatre at 1225 Arizona Street, Boulder City, is the 400-seat Boulder Theatre, once Boulder City's movie house. Built in 1931, for years it was the only air-conditioned building in the area. In 1999, actor/musician Desi Arnaz Jr. and his wife Amy purchased the facility. The historic structure has since been restored and serves as the home of the Boulder City Ballet Company. They graciously offered the lovely theater for the 2008 festival.


The DSFF, in four short years, has become an exciting destination for festival-goers and filmmakers, putting them on the maps of Boulder City, Las Vegas, our country’s film festival scene and globally—a significant accomplishment in just a few years.


Lee and Anita Lanier, two of Boulder City’s ‘turn-of-the-century’ settlers, founded the Dam Short Film Society (DSFS) in 2003. DSFS imagined a local event filling a niche, both here and nationally. “We saw so many great Short films at film festivals across the country, several in small arty towns, that when we moved to Boulder City, we started thinking about creating our own event.  It seemed like such a good fit,” said Lee.  Anita added, “Plus we wanted to show films that you just won’t see anywhere else – a lot of them will only screen at a few festivals.  Then they’re gone.”


The Society is composed of a Board of Directors, and is currently a non-membership organization.  Ken Cioe, Kae Pohe, Nicky Collins, Kirk Buckendorf, along with Lee and Anita, make up the Board. Lee Lanier organizes the festival, supported by a strong Board and volunteer force. The latest additions to the strong volunteer contingent are Carol Jeffries and Peggy Casper. Their fundraising prowess is helping the festival immensely.


Nicky Collins joined the Laniers in 2004 when they mentioned to her what they wanted to do. After traveling the world, living and working everywhere from Alaska to Africa, this Dublin-born world citizen settled in Boulder City in 1989. These are some insights she offered about the DSFF, “When Lee & Anita first started the festival they didn't know too many people in Boulder.  I think I helped them make contacts within the community, recruit volunteers, commission a local artist to make the awards—and all the million & one things that need to be done to help make the festival events run smoothly. We treat our filmmakers pretty well with hotel rooms & per-diems to encourage their participation, and I hope we will continue in that direction. I think it helps to engage and inspire local filmmakers to get involved and learn from each other...Boulder City is a perfect town for the festival with its compact downtown, and its historic theater and hotel. Boulder has such a different pace from the Vegas Valley. Visitors really enjoy the small town atmosphere. The festival brings in people who might never have discovered Boulder City otherwise”. She is someone to visit with during the festival.



It has been said to me many times, that great communicators can accomplish a good movie, beginning to end, in 20 minutes or less. Few film festivals specialize in screening Shorts as basic fare. In my interview with Lee Lanier recently, many insightful comments are worthy of mention here.  Lanier explained, “The DSFF submission standards are 1-40 minutes (the maximum is set by the Academy of Motion Picture & Sciences)”. Lanier says, “8-12 minutes is the ‘sweet zone’ for Shorts”. Lanier uses “Sony projectors, matched to the room and distance to screen”. As a veteran Festival attendee, I would have to say this is the most overlooked, key aspect of the festival experience, and the mortification expressed by filmmakers during interviews afterwards is always difficult to witness. Due to that, I believe the attention to this detail is one of the reasons so many filmmakers are submitting to the DSFF. Another is a back-up projector to prevent scheduling snafus, which is very respectful to not only the filmmaker but the attendees, as well, who usually can’t rearrange their schedules if films must be postponed.


The Laniers re-located here in 2001. Lanier, an award-winning animator from the Silicon Valley sector south of San Francisco, designed the animation program at the Art Institute of Las Vegas. He drew up the syllabus for each new class, taught them and watched the department grow to what it is today. This year, teaching just one class, he is focused on his own business, the Festival and making his own Shorts, about one a year. He enters his films in other festivals, of course, because he is the organizer of the DSFF. His films have shown in over 200 festivals, galleries and museums worldwide.


About the schedule, Lanier said, “The logistics get a bit hairy, but everything comes together. I watch every film submitted. The judges vet the films. Global to mix and match...the selected films into thematic segments.” For Lanier, “The least favorite part of this process is just making the decision on each hurts my make the decision to not select someone’s art”. At the end of the submission/decision phase, Lanier shoulders the unpleasant task of making the calls. 125 filmmakers made the cut for 2008, from a total submission list of over 335 hopefuls, both local and international.


The next phase for Lanier is the second major logistics hurdle, “I group...and regroup...films together into a block of similar themes which become festival segments”. Segments for this year’s festival run from family fare to adult, horror to comedy, sci-fi to documentaries, Student to Nevada Filmmaker, and of course animation. Animation films are now solidly recognized as filmic contributions. “Three programs also highlight local filmmakers.  The “Nevada A: Tough Choices” will occur Thursday, February 7th at 3:30 pm and will screen 5 films from up-and-coming Las Vegas filmmakers. The “Best of AI” Showcase will take place Friday, February 8th at 7 pm and will show off the student and faculty work from the Art Institute of Las Vegas.  The “Nevada B: Strange Tales” will occur the same night at 8:30 pm and will screen 7 films by such local filmmakers as Thomas Barndt and the up and coming Mike and Jerry Thompson.


Lanier makes all of the segments fit into their three-day format, which is the bulk of the DSFF mission, “We have no plans to add anything beyond the filmmaker panels—the most important thing is to screen excellent films”, said Lanier. That being said, their efforts for the festival are underscored with the educational aspects of filmmaking. The DSFF film library room/Film Market, with TV, contains over 700 Shorts from the 2005, 2006, 2007 festivals. Depending on the pass you purchase, these Shorts can be screened in the room during the festival. It also provides a place for spontaneity, and to gather and talk shop. The Filmmaker Discussion Panel (Feb. 9th) promises once again to be highly informative.


Two programs highlight cinematic icons of Short films. One, on Thursday, February 7th at 7 pm, “Revolutionary Eames” will share 9 short films created by Charles and Ray Eames. The press release went on to share: Charles and Ray are among the most important American designers of the 20th Century, the famous Eames lounge chair designers”, (not only is their chair in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, their cinematic productions are some of the most widely seen Short films of the last 50 years). “They are best known for their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design, industrial design and manufacturing, and the photographic arts. In the early 1950s, the Eameses extended their interest and skill in photography into filmmaking. They created over eighty-five short films (2-30 minutes) ranging in subjects from toy tops to the world of Franklin and Jefferson, from simple sea creatures to the explanation of advanced mathematical and scientific concepts, such as the workings of the computer. The Eames Office, an organization dedicated to communicating, preserving and extending the work of Charles and Ray Eames, has kindly provided the films.”


The other Icon segment features Jim Blashfield showcased as “The Amazing Universe of Jim Blashfield” on Saturday, February 9th at 2:30 pm. Blashfield is a Grammy Award-winning animator, producing, animating and directing influential music videos and Shorts. Jim Blashfield is a Portland, Oregon-based filmmaker and animation director, best known for his cut-out animated film ‘Suspicious Circumstances’ and a series of groundbreaking and influential music videos his studio created in the late 1980s for the Talking Heads, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Tears for Fears, and others. The videos, combining live action and animation, won numerous awards, including a Grammy for best video of the year. Mr. Blashfield is attending the festival to be present for his program’s screenings and the Q&A following.  Blashfield will share an eclectic selection of shorts and videos, including "Suspicious Circumstances," "The Lone Ranger" (a collaboration with Bill Frisell), his recently-completed stop-motion animated film "Bunnyheads," and a recent music video for Weird Al Yankovic.

There are Q&A’s after all of the program thematic segments as well, which also shed much light on the art of creating a Short. This is your opportunity to ask the filmmakers anything that comes to your mind: what camera, lens, lighting did they use, what was the overall investment, how many people helped them, what locations were used, just anything involved in making their film.

Yes, there are afterparties, red carpets and awards—the glam is a given with cinema. A special addition is the Friday night (Feb. 8th) Filmmaker Reception sponsored by our own CineVegas film festival, an astonishing gesture of kindred spirit. The CineVegas Reception takes place on Friday at 9:30 pm in the Boulder Dam Hotel. Other events and venues, such as the Filmmaker/Press Lounge, and Film Market are also at the Boulder Dam Hotel at 1305 Arizona Street.

If you can’t make it to the festival, you may enjoy a smaller version that is a new venture of the festival...DVD’s with 6 Shorts are available for $18, compiled by the Society, or custom compilations of which you choose 6 from their lists. Such a deal! Better yet, give yourself a day or three, in cozy Boulder City, soaking up the winter sun in their parks and along their boutique lined streets, eating in their excellent restaurants—and enjoying the Festival.

Ticket rates are reasonable: $5 per thematic segment program, of which there are 21. Another bargain is the 3-Day Festival Programs/Film Market passes for only $50! A ticket to the Saturday night Awards Gala, which includes a screening of the award-winning films, is $15. For Festival information, call 702-293-4848 or visit the website:


Festival schedule:

Festival photos:

Eames Foundation:

Jim Blashfield website:


Other national Short Film Festivals:


Los Angeles Short Film Festival


Miami Short Film Festival


Chlotrudis 8th Annual


Coney Island Short Film Festival:

Photos © 2007 Paramount Pictures

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       Reviews are © Carol Lane Patterson and reprinted with permission.



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